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Beauty and the Beast •••1/2

Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans
Director: Bill Condon
Screenplay: Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulos
Family/Fantasy/Musical, Rated: PG
Running Time: 129 minutes
Release Date: March 17, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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

Greg, we just saw a remake of an old classic.


As the song says, “Be our guest…” and put our patience to the test. Let’s recap:


In France, a beautiful and mysterious enchantress (Hattie Morahan) disguised as a beggar interrupts a party hosted by a selfish prince (Dan Stevens). The enchantress punishes the prince for failing to help the beggar. She transforms him into a beast until he learns to love another and earns love in return. All of his servants are converted into objects around his castle and will not revert back to human form unless the spell is broken.


We’re introduced to young Belle (Emma Watson). She’s a bookworm who can’t help falling into song at the drop of a hat. The local townspeople think she is quite odd with her book learnin’ and all. She is also without a mother but is the daughter to the local inventor, Maurice (Kevin Kline). He’s a bit of a kook too. Well, one day he is on his way to the city to sell his tinker toys when he happens upon a castle with a beast in it. He’s thrown in the dungeon, because he stole a rose.

Meanwhile, Maurice’s horse has returned home without him and Belle is worried. She mounts the horse and rides off to find her father. She finds him locked up in the castle. The beast claims that Maurice must stay. But Belle makes a deal to trade places with her father. And thus begins the oldest story of Stockholm Syndrome ever – a tale as old as time.


Greg, this modern live-action version of Beauty and the Beast is a gorgeous spectacle that leaps off the screen and comes alive musically and visually. My main problem is with the story, which you mention, is that it is a creepy tribute to the Stockholm syndrome that reinforces the subjugation of women. If you can get past this problem and focus on the many positive elements of the storytelling, then there is much to appreciate here.

My favorite part of the movie is a scene early in the story in which Belle’s father describes Belle in terms that describe a hero to a tee – Belle is odd, fearless, and ahead of her time. Apparently these same traits describe Belle’s mother, demonstrating the important role of mentoring in producing a hero. Later we learn that the Beast was raised by a father who was cruel, again underscoring the pivotal role of parenting in developing heroes.


I loved this movie when my daughters watched the animated version in the 90s as little girls. The animation and the music made it a delight. And the running time of just over 90 minutes also made it tolerable for even adults. But this new incarnation clocks in at about 130 minutes and in this case more was not better. I was bored by the extended musical numbers that went on for 5 minutes or longer. And the new songs and plot elements seemed to be mere padding. I much more enjoyed the economical storytelling of the original animated feature.

Having said that, Disney has created a marvel of CGI. The animated characters in this story truly came to life. I’m constantly amazed at the quality and extremes of computer generated images in modern films. If I was bored by the longish storytelling, I was impressed with the craft.


You’re right, Greg, this movie was much like the character of Gaston and fell in love with itself by running about 10 or 15 minutes too long. This problem is endemic to all of Hollywood’s offerings and not just this film. Like you, I was sufficiently dazzled by the CGI to leave the theater content that I got my money’s worth.

The hero of this story is the Prince who commits a moral transgression at the film’s outset and must redeem and transform himself to right his wrong. The key to his transformation is Belle, who transforms him by demonstrating a morally wondrous act of self-sacrifice to save her father. After witnessing this act, the Prince/Beast then does something similar in saving Belle from the wolves. This sets in motion the romance that ultimately redeems the Beast.

We’ve seen women occupying the role of transformer many times in the movies. Apparently, in the movies and perhaps in storytelling in general, men need women to change them. This is often the formula in romantic comedies in which women fall in love with flawed men and somehow change them. I have to admit I’m not a fan at all of this kind of transformation in storytelling, and yet I can’t deny its pervasiveness in stories and fables throughout history.


I think the hero of the story is Belle. It is Belle’s perspective the story asks us to take on. In our book Reel Heroes & Villains we identify two types of heroes: transformed heroes and catalytic heroes. The transformed hero is changed by her experience. But the catalytic hero is a catalyst for change in others. Belle is the latter. She is the agent for change in the beast. It is by her love that the beast comes to care about someone other than himself. He changes from being a selfish cad to putting Belle’s needs before his own. It’s a powerful story dynamic.

And since we’re studying transformation this year, there’s a lot of transformation going on in Beauty and the Beast. As discussed, the prince is transformed from selfish to caring. But Belle undergoes a transformation as well. While she starts out as being kind, thoughtful, intelligent, and caring, she also starts out hating the beast. And ultimately she comes to care for and love him. And while she transformed the beast, she also was the agent of change for all the animated objects in the castle and ultimately the townspeople. There’s a lot of transformation in this story.

But not all transformation is good. Unfortunately, Disney is in love with the premise that ugly people are bad and beautiful people are good. The prince is evil during his beast phase and when he is changed into a kinder, gentler beast, he magically transforms into a beautiful young man. As a professor of psychology I’d like to hear your thoughts on this. Do people generally think that beautiful people are naturally more virtuous?


Yes, research on the halo effect shows that people assume that beautiful people are also good people. This story deserves credit for demonstrating that we can look past ugliness and see inner beauty, but shame on this story for ending the tale with the ugly beast being transformed back into a handsome prince. A better lesson for all of humanity would be for Belle to live happily ever after with inner beauty, not outer beauty.

Overall, Beauty and the Beast is a visual and artistic triumph that tells an ancient story quite well despite its unfortunate glorification of the Stockholm syndrome along with the hypocrisy of outer beauty signifying inner beauty. There is an excellent hero’s journey here, with the Prince’s mistake at the film’s outset setting in motion a heartfelt story of redemption and transformative love. The music here is moving, the casting with Emma Watson and Dan Stevens is perfect, and the visuals are breathtaking. I award this film 4 Reels out of 5.

While the Prince/Beast is the main hero, it’s more accurate to say that he and Belle form a romantic duo hero pairing which we describe in our last book Reel Heroes & Villains. The giveaway that they are romantic heroes lies in the fact that they hate each other at the beginning and grow to love each other by the end. The Prince/Beast does most of the transforming; he learns how to love. Belle is his mentor, demonstrating how one loves through loyalty and self-sacrifice. It’s a nice hero story and deserves a hero rating of 4 points out of 5.

The transformation of the Prince is, of course, the centerpiece of the tale, and we’ve discussed it in this review at length. Earlier I described women in storytelling as being the catalyst of male transformation, and I left out the main female transformative agent that sets everything in motion. I’m referring to the enchantress, who transforms the Prince into the Beast and who later rescues Belle’s father thus assisting (albeit indirectly) the Beast’s transformation back into a Prince. This story is saturated with transformation and as such I’ll award it 5 Transformation points out of 5.

 Movie: Transformation: Heroes:


Beauty and the Beast is a feast for the eyes, but plods along at a snail’s pace. Emma Watson is delightful as always and the CGI of the beast, the enchanted castle, and its inhabitants is without peer. Still, I can’t get past the long running time and needless additional scenes and songs. I give Beauty and the Beast just 3 out of 5 Reels.

There’s little doubt in my mind that Belle is the hero of the story. Surely there were dozens of little girls dressed as princesses in the theater and not one beast. Belle is nearly too perfect and virtuous. The villain is the beast and it is Belle’s virtue that transforms him. I give her 4 out of 5 Heroes.

As you point out, Scott, there are plenty of transformations in this film. In our book we identify 5 different types of transformation. We see both physical and emotional transformation in this story. And you might argue for some intellectual transformation for the townspeople as well. I give the transformations 3 out of 5 transformation “deltas.”

 Movie: Transformation: Heroes:

Logan ••••

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen
Director: James Mangold
Screenplay: James Mangold, Scott Frank
Action/Drama/Sci-Fi, Rated: R
Running Time: 137 minutes
Release Date: March 3, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!


Scott, didn’t I watch this movie in the 70’s when it was Logan’s Run?


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

Greg, you’re confused. This Logan is based on that witty 1960s TV series, Logan’s Heroes. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Let’s recap.


We’re reunited with Logan, aka Wolverine. It’s 2029 and he’s been reduced to driving a limousine for fares. The mutant race (and the X-Men) are all but extinct. He is taking what little money he has and is buying prescription drugs from an orderly in the parking lot of a hospital. He takes the pills to an abandoned factory where Caliban, an albino mutant tracker is tending house. The pills are for Dr. Xavier. He’s suffering from dementia. When an episode hits, it sends out mental shockwaves that paralyzes anyone nearby – to the point of being deadly.


One day Logan is approached by a woman named Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), a nurse who is caring for a “special” set of children. She has one of those kids with her, an 11-year-old named Laura (Dafne Keen). Gabriela asks Logan to take Laura to a place in North Dakota named Eden, where Laura will be safe. Logan refuses this request, but soon changes his mind when Gabriela is killed by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and his men who harbor ill-intentions for mutants like Laura.


Scott, Logan is a film for adults more than children. So much so that it is rated ‘R’ by the MPAA. It is darker than most Marvel films as it features more blood and adult language than its predecessors. And I think it makes the film better. Logan deals with existential issues like death, aging, and suicide. These are heavy topics for an audience that is often made up of both children and adults. And while the film got an adult rating, there were many children in the theater that I was in.

There is an alternative Logan in this film as well. Dubbed as “X-24” – this is a younger clone of Logan. But unlike Logan, X-24 is filled with blind fury and does the bidding of the evil Dr. Zander Rice. The special effects here are stunning. We saw this last year in “Captain America: Civil War” where we see a young Tony Stark. The young Logan is a digital creation based on earlier images of Logan from previous films. It’s an amazing recreation.


Logan is indeed an impressive movie, not just in its CGI effects but most notably in the areas of storytelling, acting, and character development. It’s an X-Men tale surprisingly rich in exploring the nature of these characters, their history, and their ever-evolving relationships. This is Hugh Jackman’s most complex and effective portrayal of Wolverine. He delivers his best performance as an X-Man, playing a mutant on a mission who assists another younger mutant on a mission.

Going into the theater, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot, having been less than dazzled by previous installments of X-Men and Wolverine. But Logan moved me. A big reason is young actor Dafne Keene, whose face can express a thousand emotions and whose overall performance here is astonishingly good. Another shout-out goes to Patrick Stewart whose character is dying yet remains fully committed to educating his students and developing their characters to the very end.


As a hero, Logan is great. He is at the lowest point in his life. All his friends are dead and his mentor is dying. He’s given a “call to adventure” by Gabriella to take Laura to Eden. And as classic heroes do, he refuses the call. He doesn’t want to get involved. But when Gabriella is killed and Laura follows Logan back to his lair, he becomes an unwilling guardian of the girl.

And we see him come to care about the girl and her friends. Ultimately, he makes the ultimate sacrifice. And we see a type of hero that we rarely see in movies anymore – the martyr. We saw this in 2013’s Elysium where Matt Damon’s character gives his life to save a young girl.

There’s a danger in creating a martyr – the viewer is walking in the hero’s shoes. And when the hero dies, so does the viewer. So, when the hero dies it must be for a cause that is greater than himself. And Logan makes that sacrifice. He is the last of the X-Men and he trades his life for a new generation of mutants. It’s a worthy sacrifice and one that the viewer can buy into.


Well said, Greg. Also, let’s not forget that Logan is dying from Adamantium poisoning. Yet he makes sacrifice after sacrifice. This movie really taps into the archetype of the aging, diminishing hero who is called to muster up his former powers in service of a great cause. It was jolting to see the CGI effect of a younger, stronger Logan battling his aging counterpart. I continue to be impressed by Marvel’s ability to create new compelling variations of the ancient conflict between good and evil.

Let’s examine the transformations in this film. Logan is physically transformed by the Adamantium, and Professor Xavier is mentally transformed by his dementia. Emotionally, Logan transforms from pure bitterness about his plight to developing a caring compassion for the fate of Professor Xavier and the young mutants, especially Laura. And Laura herself transforms from an angry mute young girl to a vocal, passionate hero of the mutant cause. With this movie, Marvel really showcases its understanding of the elements that go into effective hero storytelling.


Absolutely. Transformation is at the heart of storytelling. Marvel writers understand this and give us stories about people, relationships, and how they change. It’s a stark difference from what we see coming out of the DC universe. There, the stories are about special effects and the story falls to the wayside. Marvel gives us both action and transformation. It’s a gratifying experience.

Logan is a great story told well. We’ve come to expect a lot from Marvel films and they deliver. I give Logan 4 out of 5 Reels. As a hero, Logan steps up to the challenge and shows us how a hero can give his all. I give Logan 4 out of 5 Heroes. And you can’t get much better than 3 transformations in one story. As you point out, Logan, Professor Xavier, and Laura all undergo transformations that resonate with the audience. I give them 5 Transformation points out of 5.

Movie: Transformation: Heroes:


Logan is the most compelling installment of the X-Men franchise in many years. The keys to its success lie in a terrific screenplay, a stronger than usual performance from Hugh Jackman, a striking performance from newcomer Dafne Keen, and several powerful transformations among the main characters. The genius of Marvel in understanding heroic storytelling is on full display here. I award this film 4 Reels out of 5.

We have a pair of buddy heroes here in Logan and Laura. They are an unlikely pairing and start out disliking and distrusting each other. With mentoring from Professor Xavier, Logan develops an understanding and appreciation for Laura and her cause. Logan’s hero’s journey contains all the classic elements, including a surprise element of the ultimate sacrifice of his own life at the end. Marvel knows that martyrdom is an archetype of deep significance in our culture (Jesus, MLK Jr, and Gandhi are notable examples). Laura’s journey is also powerfully inspiring. These two heroes earn the full 5 Hero points out of 5.

Our two heroes’ transformative journeys are emotionally and physically complex, and satisfying. Logan’s emotional growth helps compensate for his physical deterioration. Laura gains courage and develops into a leader of the young mutants. Even Professor Xavier shows heroic courage and grit in fighting his disease and mentoring our heroes. I award this film 4 Transformation points out of 5.

Movie: Transformation: Heroes:

Split •••1/2

split_2017_filmStarring: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Screenplay: M. Night Shyamalan
Horror/Thriller, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 117 minutes
Release Date: January 20, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

 

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

Greg, we’re often split in our opinions about a movie.


I’m of two minds on this film. Let’s recap…


We meet three teenage girls, Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), Marcia (Jessica Sula), and Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy). Claire and Marcia and the “cool” girls and Casey is a loner who frequently gets into trouble at school. The girls are in a car, ready to be driven home by one of their fathers, when a man named Kevin (James McAvoy ) commandeers the vehicle, kidnapping the girls and locking them in a subterranean room.


Meanwhile, Kevin is meeting with his therapist, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley) who has been receiving frantic emails from Kevin’s alter ego Barry. Dr. Fletcher’s suspicions are raised when Kevin denies sending the messages. In a later session Kevin describes a new personality called “The Beast” which has the powers of many powerful animals. Fletcher thinks The Beast is a metaphorical character, but we know better.


Greg, how interesting that we are devoting our 2017 movie reviews to the importance of character transformation in storytelling, and lo and behold we are presented with a movie about a man with dissociative identity disorder. Kevin routinely transforms among two dozen different personal identities. We’ll get to that later.

First, let me say how surprisingly pleased I was with this movie. Based on the trailer, I didn’t expect much. The film turns out to be far more than a formulaic teenage screamer/thriller movie with the usual false scares and predictable slasher villain. Split is a psychologically fascinating film that serves as a sequel to M. Night Shyamalan’s very underrated Unbreakable. We’re treated to a movie that makes us think about the very purpose of the hero’s journey, which is to take us on a path that will bring us great pain yet make us better, stronger people in the end.


I agree. Split was an uncommon thriller. The photography and direction seemed stilted, almost amateurish. But the performance by James McAvoy switching between multiple personalities, often in the same scene, really sold the story.

The three girls represent three different types of victims. Claire is the natural leader and believes that her Tai Kwon Do lessons will be enough to overpower Kevin. Marcia is the follower who looks to the other girls to decide how to proceed. And Casey wants to wait and see what Kevin is all about. Casey has experience with predators since her uncle ritually molested her as a child. It’s an interesting comparison of personalities.


I see this film as a tale of two heroes, Kevin and Casey. They’re both emotionally broken from abuse, outsiders doing their best to deal with their pain. Dr. Fletcher almost serves as the narrator of the story, telling us how the broken among us have a head start in becoming their best, superhuman selves. Kevin is slowly transforming into “the beast”, an indescribably strong, powerful mutant who needs people to eat. Casey’s transformation is brought about by her ordeal as Kevin’s captive.

The entire story is based (loosely) on the true and inspiring theory of post-traumatic growth in the field of psychology. The idea behind PTG is that the horrid experiences that traumatize us can serve as grist for the transformative mill. That which does not kill us may indeed make us stronger, better people. Research studies are confirming this phenomenon, giving many abuse victims great hope for a better future.

 


While Kevin undergoes a physical transformation, Casey undergoes an emotional one. Kevin, as The Beast, kills the other two girls. But when Kevin realizes that Casey is also a victim of abuse, he lets her go. He’s only interested in the “impure” girls, not the “pure” Casey. Frantly, I’m confused by Kevin’s definition of pure or impure. But, at any rate, after Casey has survived The Beast, she finds a new resolve to stand up to her abusive uncle. She is no longer a victim.


Split is a surprisingly cerebral thriller that takes the message of the hero’s journey to a superheroic extreme. We learn that emotionally broken people are more highly evolved than the non-broken among us. It’s a theme with biblical origins (“the last shall go first”) and it has psychological validity in theories of post traumatic growth. “We are what we believe we are,” our hero Kevin proclaims, summing up the film’s message of mind over matter and mind transforming matter. James McAvoy turns in an astounding performance and M. Night Shyamalan has produced a winner of a movie. I award Split 4 Reels out of 5.

Our two heroes, Kevin and Casey, go on remarkable heroes journeys. Many of the most searingly painful stages of their journeys occur earlier in their lives and are shown in brief flashbacks. We are thus treated to the final stages of the journey during which our heroes are on the precipice of great change. Our heroes are complex, almost anti-hero in the case of Kevin and tortured in the case of both of them. Their journey of growth is unconventional yet inspiring. I give them 5 Hero points out of 5.

The transformation of our two heroes is the true star of this film. Kevin’s transformative journey has been ongoing for years, whereas Casey’s is brought to fruition via her captivity. Our two heroes’ transformations are physical, mental, and emotional in nature. We describe these types of transformations in our book, Reel Heroes & Villains. The transformations in this film are dramatic, surprising, and inspiring. I give them 5 Transformative points out of 5.

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I agree, Scott. Split is an exciting thriller and a nice addition to M. Night Shyamalan’s catalog. Aside from some stylistic choices in cinematography, it was a well-conceived and executed film. However, I was unhappy with the epilog which brought back Bruce Willis as David Dunn from Unbroken. There wasn’t anything that tied the two films together except one line at the tail. It smacks of commercialism and an attempt to revive interest in the older film. I give Split 3 Reels out of 5.

I agree again that we have a strong pairing here, but I wouldn’t call Kevin a hero. Surely Casey is the hero and Kevin is that antagonist. Casey wants to escape and Kevin opposes that goal. Casey is stronger than her two counterparts. And it is her past experience with abuse that makes her more likely to survive her ordeal than her unlucky friends. I give Casey 4 out of 5 Heroes.

The transformations in this film are on the one hand physical, for Kevin, and emotional for Casey. We watch Kevin transform from a splintered personality to a terrible “horde” who eats flesh for delight. It’s a gruesome change. Casey starts out already stronger than her peers. But we learn that she wasn’t strong enough to fend off her molesting uncle. But by the end of the film, her experience with Kevin made her strong enough to stand up for herself. If she could face Kevin, then she surely could face her uncle. I give these transformations 4 out of 5 points.

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