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Logan Lucky •••

Starring: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Screenplay: Rebecca Blunt
Comedy/Crime/Drama, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 119 minutes
Release Date: August 18, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!


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

Greg, in all this excitement, you’ve gotta ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky?”


It’s de-ja-vu all over again in this remake of Hell or High Water – in West Virginia.


We meet Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum), a construction worker at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. He is fired from his job for liability reasons after it is discovered that he walks with a limp due to an old football injury. Jimmy visits his brother Clyde (Adam Driver), who wears a prosthetic hand as a result of injury during the Iraq war. After getting in a fight with Max Chiblain (Seth MacFarlane), an arrogant British celebrity, the two men decide to organize a complex heist of the huge cash vault underneath the Charlotte Speedway.


They enlist the aid of incarcerated bank robber Joe Bang (Daniel Craig). They promise to break him out of jail and repay him money he lost to his ex-wife. But Joe wants his brothers Fish and Sam in on the action, too. Now the two men and their sister, Mellie (Riley Keough), create a plan to use the money pneumatic pipes to suck the cash out of the vault.


Logan Lucky Is a delightfully quirky movie about the antics of some quirky characters, not all of whom are delightful. This film sits confidently in the mold of the Ocean’s Eleven franchise in that we witness the complicated heist of a massive institution, which this time happens to be NASCAR. Our heroes are actually anti-hero criminals, although we find ourselves rooting for them because (1) the writers were smart enough to endow these characters with some endearing qualities, and (2) other people in the film are portrayed as far more dastardly.

One thing that struck me was that our lead hero in the ensemble, Jimmy, shows an intuitive understanding of the hero’s journey. He composes a “to-do” list describing the process of pulling off the heist successfully, and lo and behold the list contains key elements of the hero’s journey such as “shit happens” and “deal with said shit”. Joseph Campbell described these setbacks in far more eloquent terms but the idea is the same. Heroes encounter obstacles, failures, and growth opportunities, which ultimately contribute to a successful execution of the hero mission.


I have a much dimmer view of this film than you, Scott. First, it plays upon the hillbilly stereotype. Second, in most anti-hero stories, the anti-heroes are battling against something evil, so we root for them. Jimmy and Clyde are ripping off NASCAR. Even Clyde asks the obvious question: “Why are we robbing NASCAR? They are the best thing in America.” But Jimmy has no answer.

It’s no wonder that this film bears a resemblance to Oceans 11 – it shares the same director in Steven Soderbergh. And it comes hot off the heels of last year’s Hell or High Water. Except in that film, the anti-heroes were fighting the evil forces of a bank that was leeching the life out of a small town. We root for those guys because they’re being ripped off. But Jimmy and Clyde are just down on their luck and happen to know the weakness of Charlotte Raceway’s money vault. I don’t have sympathy for them and I don’t see any justification for their reward.


The premise worked for me, Greg, because we see Jimmy get unjustly fired from his job, and we also see Jimmy and Clyde get insulted because they suffer from physical disabilities. This ignites our sympathy for them. NASCAR is a billion dollar business and certainly isn’t as evil as the banking industry or as sleazy as a big casino, but these days rich fat-cats of any type are perceived as guilty of greed and therefore ripe for robbery. I’m not condoning this perception; it’s just the mindset of our society right now.

So we do have a strong hero’s journey, and although Jimmy doesn’t anticipate every bump on the heroic road, he plans well enough to pull off the heist. Daniel Craig nearly steals the show with his portrayal of a smart, dangerous convict who helps our heroic duo break into the vault. I do agree with you, Greg, that the stereotype of southerners as slow and stupid did bother me. I’m lived in the South for over 30 years and trust me, dear readers, this movie does not accurately portray people south of the Mason-Dixon line.


And, what was Seth MacFarlane doing in this film? He was basically a douche-bag brit that insulted Clyde’s lost hand. That was apparently the inciting incident that led our boys into a life of crime. Otherwise, he had little purpose in this film.

As with other films of this ilk, there’s little transformation here. Our heroes seem richer for their efforts (is this a type of transformation we’ve neglected?), and are closer as brothers. Jimmy’s ex-wife seems to be more willing to let him see his daughter. But otherwise, everyone is the same as they started. And who knows? Maybe Hillary Swank as the last-minute FBI agent might figure out what our boys did and they’ll get their cum-uppance.


Logan Lucky is a fun, adventurous, and clever movie that features some wonderful performances by Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, and Daniel Craig. The dialogue, chemistry, and antics of these three characters are certainly worth the price of admission. This film has a mission-impossible-like feel to it, with a nice mix of complex planning that we are privy to and other planning that catches us by surprise. The combination of memorable and colorful characters along with a fun and sprightly plotline compels me to award this film 4 Reels out of 5.

Our anti-heroes are down-on-their luck brothers who appear so deserving of a break that we find ourselves rooting for them to succeed in their criminal caper. Jimmy and Clyde follow the hero’s journey almost to the letter; they attract helpers, encounter anti-villains and obstacles, and emerge richer and self-confident. Most importantly, the Logan curse has been lifted. I award this duo 4 Hero points out of 5.

The transformation is a bit more subtle and thus difficult to pinpoint. Clearly, with the curse lifted, they have experienced a transformation of self-confidence. Greg, I would not call wealth accumulation a transformation, although if you pushed me I might say it is a type of physical transformation that we discuss in our most recent book, Reel Heroes & Villains. One thing to keep in mind is that the story is not yet over, as FBI agent Hilary Swank appears poised to track down and capture our anti-heroes. I’ll give our dynamic duo just 2 Deltas out of 5 because they didn’t truly transform much, and that’s okay because transformation was never the point of this film.

Movie: Heroes: Transformations:


Logan Lucky is a wannabe mash-up of Hell or High Water and Oceans 11 – but the results are disappointing. I don’t feel any remorse for our anti-hero brothers Jimmy and Clyde – at least not enough for me to get over the fact that they’re committing a crime. The crime itself is a good caper but the twist at the end left me feeling tricked rather than impressed. I can only muster 2 out of 5 Reels for this film.

The heroes come off as dim-witted but ultimately show that they know more than the average bear. Jimmy does his best to be a good dad to his daughter Sadie. He’s ripping off NASCAR so he can afford to move to Lynchburg to follow Sadie when her mom moves there. Still, I don’t admire a man who breaks the law to show his dedication. I only have 2 Heroes for Jimmy and Clyde.

There are some transformations here. Joe Bang gets out of jail. The boys get their money. Jimmy gets to be with Sadie. And Clyde gets a nicer prosthetic arm. I give them all 1 Delta out of 5.

Movie: Heroes: Transformations:

Kidnap ••

Starring: Halle Berry, Sage Correa, Chris McGinn |
Director: Luis Prieto
Screenplay: Knate Lee
Thriller, Rated: R
Running Time: 81 minutes
Release Date: August 4, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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Scott, you’d have to kidnap and restrain me in order to get me to look at this film again.


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

Greg, I kid you not, I’d rather nap than see this flick again. Let’s recap.


We’re introduced to Karla (Halle Berry) – she’s a waitress and mother in the middle of a divorce. She’s taken her son to the park when she gets a call from her lawyer. Her husband wants primary custody of her son. While she’s distracted, her son is abducted by woman. Karla sees him stuffed into a car and she jumps into her SUV to give chase.


And chase she does. There is a lot of chasing and a lot of mayhem during these chases. Karla learns from her son’s recording device that the two kidnappers are named Margo (Chris McGinn) and Terry (Lew Temple). During these chase sequences, Margo and Terry threaten to harm the kid if Karla doesn’t back off. Karla persists in giving chase and eventually has violent encounters with the kidnappers.


Scott, this film is reminds me of 2013’s The Call – also a Halle Berry movie. There really isn’t much to this story. The child is abducted and we watch Halle Berry emote into the camera for 90 minutes as she chases the abductors. I wish there were more to report, but that’s it.

The production values are very low. The script was sparse. The action was simple. There weren’t a lot of intense car chases or stunts. This was about as simple as a Hollywood film can get. I noted that Halle Berry’s own company “606 Films” was listed as one of the producers. This film really feels like a training run for her production company.


If you’re going to make a movie that consists of 90 minutes of chasing, then those chase scenes had better be extraordinary and the lessons learned had better be deep and enduring. Alas, this was not the case in Kidnap. You’re right, Greg, about the cheap production value of the film. You know you’re in trouble when half the movie consists of close-ups of Halle Berry’s emotionally contorted face. The car chases themselves were rather pedestrian, although I do admit on one or two occasions they were suspenseful.

My main problem is with the so-called heroism of our protagonist, Karla. Yes, she saves her young child, but along the way she maims and kills cops, pedestrians, and other motorists. Does her relentless pursuit of her son make her a hero when she’s left a swath of death and destruction in her wake? The concluding scene should have shown her being arrested. Now we know why throughout the country, long and dangerous police chases are slowly being phased out. They aren’t worth the carnage they inflict on innocent bystanders. By film’s end, Karla has become an unintended anti-hero.


Kidnap is a low-thrills rollercoaster ride. It’s a showcase for Halle Barry’s production company and as such doesn’t try anything controversial. An average film might get three Reels but this is a decidedly below-average film. I rate it just 2 Reels out of 5. Karla is little more than a cardboard cutout. I can only give her 2 out of 5 Heroes. And there’s scant little transformation going on – so I give this film 1 out of 5 Deltas.

Movie: Heroes: Transformation:


That’s a harsh yet accurate synopsis of this film, Greg. At best, Kidnap is a made-for-TV quality chase scene stretched out to 90 minutes due to long, frequent cuts to Halle Berry’s frantic facial expressions. This movie portrays Berry’s character heroically despite the fact that she has killed and seriously harmed many people en route to rescuing her son. The underwater fight scene near the end is unintentionally funny and the conclusion of the story is predictable. I’d say 2 Reels out of 5 is quite reasonable and perhaps even generous.

Because the hero is actually an anti-hero, and because the film doesn’t even acknowledge this fact, I have to award our protagonist Karla a single Hero point out of 5. And you’re right, Greg, that there is no transformation to be found here, a fact that compels me to award 1 transformational Delta out of 5.

Movie: Heroes: Transformation:

The Dark Tower ••1/2

Starring: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor
Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Screenplay: Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner
Action/Adventure/Fantasy, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 95 minutes
Release Date: August 4, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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

Greg, I was definitely in the mood for a movie about something dark protruding into the sky.


It seems our next film is the fight of good vs. evil over Trump Tower. Let’s recap:


We meet eleven-year-old Jake (Tom Taylor), who is having dreams and visions about a dark tower, a gunslinger (Idris Elba), and a man dressed in black (Matthew McConaughey). Everyone thinks Jake is crazy, and his mother (Katheryn Winnick) even takes him to a psychiatrist about these disturbing visions. One day two workers from a psychiatric facility come to Jake’s home to take him away, but he recognizes them as members of the evil forces in his fantasies.

 


Jake runs away and finds a portal to another world. He steps through and immediately meets up with the Gunslinger from his nightmares. The Gunslinger explains that the Man in Black is trying to destroy the Dark Tower – the thing that keeps the universal badness at bay. Now it’s a race against time as Jake and the Gunslinger track down the Man in Black to save both their worlds.


Greg, whatever The Dark Tower was trying to do, it misses the mark. It wasn’t a scary movie, a horror movie, an action movie, or a western. I suppose it belongs in the fantasy genre, but what kind of fantasy involves a dark, foreboding tower holding the universe together? Usually those are the kinds of towers we want to destroy, not keep standing, so I’m not sure what kind of metaphor or symbol this story is proposing.

The tale is a simple one involving our hero, a young boy, and his mission to preserve the tower. To accomplish this feat, he enlists the aid of a friend and mentor in the form of the gunslinger, and he must defeat the villainous Matthew McConaughey. So it’s a pretty standard hero’s journey, a coming-of-age type of story with most of the elements of Joseph Campbell’s hero monomyth in place. But nothing in the film is particularly inspiring. There’s not much action, not much suspense, not much interesting dialogue, and not much to get excited about. This film is a by-the-numbers fantasy that barely kept my attention for 95 minutes.


Yeah, I agree. In anticipation of the film, I read book one in The Dark Tower series. Only to learn that the movie is not based on any one of the books. But rather, is a sort of amalgam of all the books combined. As such it was not satisfying in any way. Also, the books are very dark and suitable mainly for adult consumption. This new film (and apparent series) was watered down and seems to be a young adult offering. It was not scary or dark and did not bring the adult level of entertainment of the books.

However, the performances were top-notch. Idris Elba as Roland, the Gunslinger, was at once brooding and sympathetic. He was a man out for vengeance. McConaughey’s Man in Black was equally brooding and quite scary as a man with a singular purpose – to bring down the tower by sucking the life energy out of small children.

Despite McConaughey’s brilliant portrayal, the Man in Black is a one-dimensional character. We don’t know why he wants to topple the Dark Tower. We don’t know how he came to be such a villainous character. As we’ve noted in the past, the pure evil villain, however well presented, is still bland and boring. A little more backstory for the Man in Black might have upped the game for this story.


I interpreted McConaughey’s “man in black” character to be the devil — or something equivalent in midworld — and as such it didn’t seem to matter how he became pure evil. But even the devil is a fallen angel with a backstory, and so you’re right, it would have been nice to know how he evolved into such utter badness. We learn a bit more about the gunslinger’s history but only at a surface level.

In terms of transformation, we do have a young boy with a secret identity whose powers are initially misunderstood by everyone. This case of mistaken identity is a deep heroic archetype in ancient storytelling, seen in tales from Cinderella to the Ugly Duckling. So there is a transformation from ordinary (and vilified) to extraordinary (and revered) in our young hero. And his highly evolved powers save the day at the end.


Yeah, actually I enjoyed Jake’s transformation in this film. He thinks he’s a nut case – going crazy. Only to find that he’s got some sort of special power. So he comes into his own as a hero.

The Dark Tower is a disappointing if not technically powerful achievement. The acting and special effects are as good as any movie we’ve seen this year. But the story is not as adult as I would have liked and it doesn’t relate to the book it’s based upon. I give The Dark Tower 3 out of 5 Reels.

Jake is the hero of the story and his transformation is entertaining. His mentor is the Gunslinger who has his own transformation to undergo. The Man in Black is a strong villain. What he lacks in backstory or motivation he makes up for in being a competent and challenging opponent. I give Jake and his hero’s journey 3 out of 5 Heroes. Jake’s transformation is good, he comes into his own in this story. I give him 3 out of 5 Deltas.

Movie: Transformation: Heroes:


I agree that The Dark Tower is a towering disappointment. This is a movie that didn’t know what it wanted to be. I suppose it was a fantasy adventure for pre-teens that doesn’t hold much appeal for adults. Overall there wasn’t enough fun, suspense, or adventure in this film to hold my interest. Pretty much everything about this movie and in this movie is forgettable. I can only give it 2 Reels out of 5.

Having said that, the film does feature a decent hero’s journey and a solid hero’s transformation. Jake is separated from his ordinary world and encounters all the basic elements of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth of the hero — a friend and mentor, a formidable villain, and a mission to eradicate evil. Jake discovers his true powers and true identity and in so doing he defeats the enemy. As such, I can award 3 Hero points and 3 transformation Deltas.

Movie: Transformation: Heroes:

Atomic Blonde ••1/2

Starring: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman
Director: David Leitch
Screenplay: Kurt Johnstad, Antony Johnston
Action/Mystery/Thriller, Rated: R
Running Time: 115 minutes
Release Date: July 28, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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Well Scott, it looks like her cover is blown: Debbie Harry was a double agent in the late 1980s.

 


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

Wrong “blondie”, Greg. This one is quite nuclear. Let’s recap.


We’re introduced to blonde bombshell Lorraine Broughton. She’s a top spy for MI6 in 1989 and about as hot as Charlize Theron. She’s on a mission: it seems someone has stolen a list of all the secret agents in the Soviet Union and Lorraine has to get them before the KGB does and expose the double agent Satchel to boot.


Upon arrival in Berlin, Lorraine is ambushed by KGB agents but manages to kill them and escape. She meets her main contact in Berlin, David Percival (James McAvoy) who sets her up to be ambushed at a dead agent’s apartment. She survives this incident and then has a brief romantic fling with a French agent there named Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella).


Atomic Blonde is one drawn-out fight scene after another held together loosely by bits of plot. And when I say “bits” I’m not kidding. This is the thinnest plot I’ve ever seen in an action film. Basically, there’s a list of agents (haven’t we seen this a dozen times? Think Mission Impossible) that have to be recovered. But this time, some guy has memorized the list (haven’t we seen this before? Think Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation) and our hero needs to get him from East Berlin to West Berlin (Think Bridge of Spies). The plot wasn’t enough to keep me interested, and unless you enjoy seeing people beating each other to a pulp, you won’t be interested either.


Greg, I was thinking the same thing, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the plot of this film was thin. The plot was just fine. I’d say the movie is a satisfying albeit conventional spy thriller with a nice surprise twist at the end. You’re right that this film is saturated with bloody, bone-crunching, hand-to-hand combat scenes. These fight scenes are as gripping and painfully realistic as we’ve ever seen in the movies. While Charlize Theron’s face and fists are bruised and battered, the rest of her body remains softly feminine and unbruised. We should see welts the size of Mount Rushmore on her.

My wife and I have recently been watching Alfred Hitchcock movies from the 1950s and 60s, and we’re struck by Hitchcock’s emphasis on story and dialogue and by the paucity of violence. Movies today seem to have forgotten that story is the main dish and that action and violence are mere side dishes designed to augment the main entree. Nowadays the chase scenes and fisticuffs are not only the main dish, they seem to take up the entire plate. Atomic Blonde has strong enough story elements that we don’t need to be bombarded with mayhem from start to finish.


Well, Scott, whether we agree on the quality of the story, we’re in agreement on a trend we are seeing in major motion pictures. Filmmakers are opting for spectacle in favor of story. Atomic Blonde is not designed as a thoughtful, emotional experience. It’s more of a visual feast. We see this in other films as well. The Transformers franchise is a good example. The movie theater is becoming a place to see big films filled with visuals that don’t impress on the small screen. Meanwhile, stories with long story lines and deep characters are finding a home on television. The movie theater is, more and more, becoming an amusement park ride.


There is certainly a hero’s journey worth mentioning, although it lacks a few key elements. Lorraine is sent to Berlin and discovers it to be a hornet’s nest. She is tested in many big ways, and also finds a key love interest. She encounters villains and relies on implicit mentors from the past who trained her well in the art of lethal killing and self-defense. I don’t see much of a transformation here, as the main point of the film is to offer a blood-splattered spy story. Lorraine remains untransformed, a superhero who has superheroic powers from start to finish.


Atomic Blonde is entertainment for those who enjoy fisticuffs. The soundtrack was good if you’re a fan of 80’s new wave (which I am). But, after enjoying the synchrony between song and story in Baby Driver, this film’s use of music is much more uncoordinated background noise than soundtrack. I give Atomic Blonde 2 out of 5 Reels.

As a hero, Lorraine does alright. She’s smart and strong and easy to look at. But she doesn’t reveal many other redeeming qualities. I give her 2 out of 5 Heroes. And as you point out, there isn’t much in the way of transformation for anyone in this film. I can only muster 2 Deltas out of 5.

Movie: Heroes: Transformations:


I pretty much agree with you, Greg, except that I found that amidst all the mayhem and bloodshed in Atomic Blonde, there was a decent story to sink one’s teeth into. Charlize Theron shines in this ass-kicking role, and I liked the surprise ending quite a bit. I award this film 3 Reels out of 5.

I’ve already mentioned the deficits in the hero’s journey and I’d also like to add one other caveat on the topic of gender and heroism. Although Atomic Blonde is to be commended for featuring a woman in a strong heroic role, it is also true that it is a hyper-masculine role. You may recall that a strength of Wonder Woman was its emphasis on androgenous heroic leadership, i.e., heroism that contains elements of both agency (masculinity) and communality (femininity). Not to get on my soap box, but this world needs softer, gentler heroism from both its male and female protagonists. And yes, I admit that it’s probably unfair of me to point this out in the context of a film with a woman hero, as it is certainly a criticism of almost all movies, not just this one.

So regarding my hero rating, I’ll give Lorraine 3 Hero points out of 5. We both acknowledge that transformation was not the point of the story here, and so I’ll agree with you, Greg, that all these main characters deserve is a measly 2 transformative Deltas out of 5.

Movie: Heroes: Transformations: