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Justice League ••• 1/2

Starring: Ben AffleckGal GadotJason Momoa
Director: Zack Snyder
Screenplay: Chris TerrioJoss Whedon
Action/Adventure/Fantasy, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 120 minutes
Release Date: November 17, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!


Scott, can our review do justice to the latest DC franchise film?

 


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

Greg, our review is in a league of its own — which may or may not be a good thing. Let’s recap.


We’re introduced to Batman (Ben Affleck) hanging a hoodlum upside down from the side of a tall building in Gotham City. The hoodlum’s fear attracts a man-sized flying insect that Batman captures and it self destructs. Batman fears that with the passing of Superman (Henry Cavill), the galaxy knows that Earth is vulnerable to attack. He reaches out to Diana Prince (aka Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot) for help, but she is reluctant to get involved. The two go in search of other heroes to help them in the coming attack.


The main villain is Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), who has lain dormant for thousands of years and now is hellbent on acquiring unlimited power from three mother boxes scattered around the globe. Batman and Wonder Woman know they’ll need to assemble a team, and so they find and recruit Arthur Curry as Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Barry Allen as The Flash (Ezra Miller), and Victor Stone as Cyborg (Ray Fisher). When it becomes clear that they cannot defeat Steppenwolf without Superman’s help, they hatch a plan to resurrect the man of steel from his grave.


Scott, aside from this summer’s Wonder Woman, this is the best of the DC Extended Universe movies. But that’s not saying much. The film takes its time assembling its team of superheroes. To its credit, there are a number of scenes with heartfelt talks between characters. This is a welcome difference from the other films in this series (probably thanks in large part to a rewrite by Joss Whedon who is well-known for his character building).

The weak point in this film, as in most of the DCEU films, is the villain, This guy was just pure evil bent on the destruction of Earth for no reason other than he is cranky. And he’s not even the mastermind – the “motherbox” is apparently even bigger and badder than he is. If Steppenwolf is boring, then the motherbox is even worse. We don’t really know anything about it or its powers. And when it starts taking over the Chernobyl-like facility, all we see are scary black weeds. It’s hard to get invested in a villain that is mainly invisible.


Greg, slowly but surely, DC Films is finally acquiring an understanding of how to make a good superhero movie. You’re right about Joss Whedon’s fingerprints being all over this screenplay, and his influence gives this film a nice human touch. There’s also a concerted effort here to make superhero movies fun, an insight that Marvel figured out long ago.

In fact, my main criticism of Marvel superhero movies is that they are comedies with occasional dramatic moments. With Justice League, I see an attempt by DC Films to create a superhero movie that is a drama with occasional comedic moments. This latter approach works better for me, giving DC Films an edge once they master the formula, which they are close to doing.


There are other problems with DC Films. Among them being the poor quality Computer Graphics Imagery (CGI). The CGI in this film resembles cartoon drawings. Steppenwolf looked like a low-res XBOX 360 rendering. I’m stunned since it cost a reported $300MM to produce.

This is a good batch of heroes. Wonder Woman is more than just eye candy. She’s still reeling from the loss of Steve Trevor over 100 years ago. And she is a superior warrior as exposed in the opening scenes. Young Flash is entertaining as the newcomer to the scene. Cyborg, however, seems to have just the right superpowers that are needed at any point in time. But he is dealing with the man-vs-machine problem. Aquaman is hyper-masculine in what appears to be DC attempting to overcome the “lame” factor (YouTube.com). And then we have Batman, who has no real powers except, perhaps, leadership. Finally, Superman is back from the dead and he is more powerful than the rest of them combined.


The CGI didn’t bother me; in fact, I thought there was a cool, cruel, complexity to Steppenwolf’s look. The relevant flaw to me resides in the uni-dimensionality of this villain. Pure evil is rarely interesting, as you point out, Greg.

The transformations in this film were notable, beginning with the resurrection of Superman. We all knew it was coming, and they did a nice job of portraying his physical and mental transformations. Batman’s greying hair reveals that his physical decline is inevitable, unless of course they replace the aging Ben Affleck with a younger actor. His fragility makes him more of a liability than an asset to the team. Flash is portrayed as a young kid who provides comic relief, and his is a coming-of-age transformation story.


Justice League is an improvement over previous DCEU films. This “coming together” segment justifiably spent most of its time collecting the heroes into an ensemble and less time with the actual battle of good vs. evil. It’s not a terrible film, but DC has a long way to go to catch Marvel. I give Justice League just 3 out of 5 Reels.

The ensemble curated and led by Batman is a good group. They have, after all, been cultivated over decades since the launch of DC in the 1930s. It’s clear that Wonder Woman is the breakout star of the DCEU, rivaling the entertainment value of both Batman and Superman. I give these heroes 4 out of 5 Heroes.

You pretty well covered the transformations. Wonder Woman seems to have accepted the responsibility for saving the world that she hid from since the death of Steve Trevor. Cyborg is growing into his status as a superhero. Flash is still coming-of-age and is also finding his place in the league. I give these transformations 3 out of 5 Deltas.

Movies: Transformations: Heroes:


For me, Justice League was not merely an improvement over previous DC Comics Films; it represents a triumph. Finally we are treated to a film with some heart and soul behind the capes and masks of our DC superheroes. If Marvel films give us superhero tales that are comedies, DC Films would be wise to continue making dramas sprinkled with comedic elements. There is an appealing simplicity to Justice League that gives it great entertainment value. I give the film 4 Reels out of 5.

I agree with you, Greg, that we have an impressive group of superheroes who engage in lively banter and enjoy sizzling chemistry. The ensemble must work together and overcome daunting obstacles to defeat Steppenwolf, and several of them must undergo significant transformative change to do so — Superman, especially. I give this super-crew a rating of 4 Heroes out of 5 and their transformations a rating of 4 Deltas out of 5.

Movies: Transformations: Heroes:

Murder on the Orient Express ••••

Starring: Kenneth BranaghPenélope CruzWillem Dafoe
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Screenplay: Michael GreenAgatha Christie
Crime/Drama/Mystery, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 114 minutes
Release Date: November 10, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

 


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

Greg, it looks like Hercule Poirot took the last train to Clarksville.


Stop monkeying around and let’s review Murder on the Orient Express.


In Jerusalem in 1934, the famed detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is in the process of solving a case. Afterward, he is called on a case in London and must board the Orient Express, slated to leave Istanbul. At first it appears that the train is completely booked but Poirot obtains passage thanks to his friend Bouc (Tom Bateman), who is the director of the Orient Express.


He meets an array of characters, among them gangster Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp) who tries to enlist Poirot as his personal assistant – looking out for anyone trying to do him harm. Poirot declines pointing out that he chooses his company, and he does not want to be in the company of Ratchett. Later that night, Ratchett is found dead in his room with a dozen knife wounds in his chest. Poirot would rather start his vacation, but the game is afoot!


Greg, Murder on the Orient Express is a stylish re-make of two other films based on Agatha Christie’s iconic 1934 novel by the same name. Viewers may need to be fans of the mystery genre to appreciate this film, as there is a lot of talking between Poirot and the dozen suspects of the crime. These conversations are intelligent and witty, and it was fun watching Poirot struggle to put all the pieces together. Kenneth Branagh deserves kudos for bringing Poirot and his ridiculous mustache to life on the big screen once again.

It helps that this re-make is superbly cast. The assortment of colorful characters include Caroline Hubbard played by Michelle Pfeiffer, Hector MacQueen played by Josh Gad, and Gerhard Hardman played by Willem Dafoe. Depp also steps up his game in portraying the sleazy killer whom everyone wants dead. A prominent non-human character in the film is the beautiful yet foreboding Bulgarian mountain range that supplies the avalanche needed to give Poirot time to solve the case.


I had a good time with this film. Unlike other offerings this year, it was not a slam-bam fest. It was a thoughtful, humorous, and enjoyable two hours. Branagh’s Poirot, though, was a very monotone character – rarely raising his voice or even an eyebrow.

It has been a long time since I read “Murder on the Orient Express” in high school, so I didn’t remember the ending. It turns out that all the suspects took a stab at the villain. I was surprised that Poirot let them all go. I suppose it was his guilt at not responding to Armstrong’s letter that swayed him. I feel it made him just as guilty as the rest. But it’s hard to argue with Agatha Christie. I think she took a risk aligning her hero with killers. Perhaps sensibilities were different in the 1930s. But otherwise, Poirot is the classic “competent” hero.


Greg, I’d say you’ve put your finger on the heroic transformation of Poirot, if you could call it that. Remember, he is portrayed as having an OCD perfectionism that requires him to see the world in black-and-white terms. The circumstances of the murder compel Poirot to re-examine his rigidity and recognize the moral grey area surrounding the murder. Ratchett is a despicable man who got away with either killing or ruining the lives of several good people, and while this fact doesn’t excuse the taking of his life, it certainly does mitigate the immorality of the act. Poirot walks away from this grisly affair with a more nuanced understanding of justice, human nature, and human culpability.


Murder on the Orient Express is an enjoyable mystery, true to the original. It was not ambitiously paced which made for a relaxing movie-going experience. It has one of the most original endings of any mystery in history. The star-studded cast delivered and Branagh as Poirot was a treat. I give Murder on the Orient Express 4 out of 5 Reels.

Poirot is Poirot throughout and is the epitome of the “competent” hero. Branagh’s portrayal of Poirot was a bit on the reserved side. While Poirot himself is a reserved character, a few highs and lows would have been appreciated. I give this incarnation of Hercule Poirot 4 out of 5 Heroes.

Transformations are abundant in this film as we watch everyone on the train change from who we thought they were – into who they really were. But no one was particularly changed for the better. I give the perpetrators just 3 out of 5 Deltas.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:


You’ve summed it up nicely, Gregger. Murder on the Orient Express delivers exactly what fans of mystery movies desire, namely, a smart and charismatic detective and an assortment of colorful suspects who supply a mix of intriguing clues. I agree that a rating of 4 Reels out of 5 is a fair assessment.

The hero’s journey is a bit stunted by the fact that Poirot is a recurring character with limited ability to grow or change from his journey. He also lacks good mentors or a love interest. I give his heroism a rating of 3 Heroes out of 5. Poirot does show a slight transformation toward appreciating moral nuance, and Ratchett transforms from alive to dead. The reality is that this genre of film isn’t about transformation, and so I give these characters 2 Deltas out of 5.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:

Thor: Ragnarok ••1/2

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett
Director: Taika Waititi
Screenplay: Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle
Action/Adventure/Comedy, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 130 minutes
Release Date: November 3, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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Scott, let’s review the latest muppet movie: Thor: FraggleRock.

 


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

You’ll get hammered by Thor for your disrespect, Greg. Let’s recap.


It looks like Thor has been trapped upside down and is talking to a skeleton for some reason. Meanwhile his brother Loki is pretending to be his father Odin for some reason. The two make friends and go in search of their father who is dying in Norway for some reason. Odin warns the two that their (heretofore unknown) sister is coming back to reign terror and take over their homeworld of Asgard… for some reason.


Odin explains that Hela had once been a vicious conqueror but had been vanquished and erased from history. Sure enough, Odin dies and Hela appears. She easily defeats Thor and jettisons him into space to die. Traveling into the underworld, Hela resurrects her old army and oversized wolf. She also recruits an Asgard named Skurge (Karl Urban) to be her executioner. Meanwhile, Thor appears on a planet of garbage and is captured by Valkyrie Scrapper 142 (Tessa Thompson) who appears ready to sell him into slavery.


Scott, I think I no longer know what makes a good movie. Thor: Ragnarok is about as nonsensical a film as any I’ve ever seen. And yet critics and fans alike give the film rave reviews (93% from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, and 90% from fans). I’ve seen bad movies (like Adam Sandler’s Grown Ups films) that have low scores from critics, but high scores from fans. That makes sense to me – an artist like Sandler knows his audience and delivers. But how in the world critics can give Ragnarok a good review is beyond me.

Here’s my beef: it longs to be Guardians of the Galaxy but has none of the charm and complexity of that film. Nothing in Ragnarok makes sense: We have a purely evil character in Hela. How is it that she can destroy Thor’s hammer? I thought it was indestructible and only could be held by someone of incredible virtue? She has a backstory that comes out of nowhere and her storyline is basically put on the back burner while we follow Thor on Sakaar who has to fight for the Grandmaster (delightfully played by Jeff Goldblum who seems to be keenly aware he’s in a ridiculous movie) against, of all creatures, The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). How convenient / unlikely is that?

This scenario is clearly designed to pit two Marvel characters against each other in humorous ways. But in the end it begs a bunch of questions about just how super these superheroes are. I mean, is Thor indestructible? He can withstand being bashed against walls and floors. If so, why is he disabled by a little shock of electricity from Scrapper’s device? Isn’t Thor the God of Thunder? Shouldn’t he be able to withstand the shock of, say, lightning. This movie made no sense at all and I didn’t find the situations funny as much as they were contrived.


Greg, you’ve been singing the praises of Marvel films for years now, and I can’t think of a single one that operates in the world of logic, consistency, or reality. They’re all skillfully crafted goofball adventure stories, with pretty much every scene of these films requiring a cavernous suspension of disbelief.

Thor: Ragnarok continues in this tradition and is another storytelling triumph for Marvel. This film showcases the cycle of life, with our hero Thor going through the ordeal of replacing his father on the throne. In the process he even loses his eye in the same way that his father did. As with most Marvel films, this movie has depth and heft to it, gifting audiences with memorable characters and a screenplay offering a perfect blend of intelligence and wit.

Redemption is a key component of heroism and it abounds in this film. Loki is the obvious redeeming figure, but we also see redemption in the rock creature rotting in the Grandmaster’s dungeon, and in Scrapper 142, the Valkyrie who captures Thor but later becomes empowered to reclaim her rightful place in the universe. There is also redemption in the Hulk, who is liberated from the Grandmaster’s fighting arena. In addition, we see satisfying redemption in Skurge, the henchman who turns against Hela and dies saving the citizens of Asgard.


Scott, in my own defense, most of the Marvel films have internal consistency and deep characters that make them worth watching. I didn’t find this to be true in Thor: Ragnarok.

Thor as a hero is his usual self. He’s super powerful and super moral. He is also flawed in that he is still brash and filled with hubris. He seems to mature in this film as he puts his people ahead of himself and takes the throne. He realizes that leadership is a service and not a burden nor a privilege. Different than his earlier incarnations, he is both willing and able to make this transition.

As mentioned, Thor undergoes a deep transformation as he shifts from a selfish, devil-may-care character to a leader. The demise of his sister Hela seems accomplished in a simplistic way. She goes from a ‘hellish’ leader to a bit of ash by the film’s end. It seems the relationship between Thor and Loki, while still tenuous, has also matured into one of mutual respect and cooperation.


I’m glad you mention transformations, Greg. Transformation and redemption go hand-in-hand, and so this film is chock-full of them. In a key scene, Thor and Loki are having a heart-to-heart conversation about how different they turned out, and Thor cuts to the chase: While he (Thor) has changed and grown as a person, Loki has not. Thor even mentions that growth and transformation are what life is all about. Perhaps his little speech had an effect, as Loki later steps up and helps Thor defeat his older sister.

And so we see that Thor serves as Loki’s mentor, thus demonstrating how mentorship is key to transformation. Thor ends up mentoring several people, including Bruce Banner, the Valkyrie, and the rock creature. Odin operates as Thor’s mentor.


Thor: Ragnarok mystifies me as I don’t see the appeal. It’s a loosely tied plot with shallow characters and no point. The only character I found interesting was the Grandmaster played by Jeff Goldblum. I am dumbfounded by how Thor can withstand intense beatings by the Hulk and yet lose his eye to lightning – of which he is the supposed god. I give this film 1 out of 5 Reels.

As far as heroes go, Thor does pretty well. He is the classic superhero which gives him a baseline of points. And he undergoes a transition from fractious child to responsible adult as he takes both the throne and responsibility for his people. I give Thor 3 out of 5 Heroes and 3 out of 5 Deltas.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:


Thor: Ragnarok is yet another winner for Marvel, the movie studio that has perfected the art of producing fabulously entertaining superhero stories. This film works on every level, from storytelling to character development to production value. Our hero Thor is tested to the limits and is humbled en route to defeating his evil older sister. I’m impressed by the numerous instances of redemption and transformation in a half-dozen characters who are forced by circumstances to respond to the heroic challenges facing them.

This movie is clever and imaginative, easily earning it 4 Reels out of 5. For its emphasis on heroic growth among many of its ensemble of characters, I award Thor: Ragnarok’s heroes a rating of 4 Hero points out of 5. The pervasiveness of redemptive story arcs among these characters also signifies significant character growth and change, and thus I also give this film 4 transformation Deltas out of 5.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:

 

Suburbicon •

Starring: Matt DamonJulianne MooreOscar Isaac
Director: George Clooney
Screenplay: Joel CoenEthan Coen
Crime/Drama/Mystery, Rated: R
Running Time: 105 minutes
Release Date: October 27, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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

Greg, it’s time to watch George Clooney’s biting critique of suburban America.


More like his ultra-liberal wet dream – Suburbicon. Let’s Recap.


We meet Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon), his crippled wife Rose (Julianne Moore), sister-in-law Margaret (Julianne Moore), and son Nicky (Noah Jupe). They live in Suburbicon, a fictitious all-white middle-class neighborhood in 1959 America.


Young Nicky Lodge neighborhood is up in arms because a black family has moved in next door. Nicky’s invalid mother Rose tells the boy to go play with the family’s young boy. This causes unrest in Rose’s sister, Maggie. That night, two men come to Nicky’s house and tie him, his father Gardner, his mother, and his aunt up and chloroform them into unconsciousness. But just as Nicky is drifting off, he sees one of the men give Rose an additional dose of chloroform. When he awakes in the hospital, he learns that his mother is dead.


Greg, Suburbicon is a Coen brothers misfire. Intended to be a dark comedy, the film is instead a soul-crushing story that left me thinking, “what’s the point?” There are two stories running parallel here, the main one involving a love-triangle murder to collect on a life insurance policy. The second storyline isn’t so much a story as it is a neighborhood’s violent tirade against an African-American family. The connection between these two tales isn’t fleshed out, and all I can figure is that the main story is about family dysfunction while the secondary story shows us societal dysfunction.

Everyone in this film is a vile character, with the exception of Nicky’s uncle, who dies while saving the boy from one of the killers. I get the impression that the Coen brothers felt like producing something dark a la Fargo but they forgot to insert Fargo’s cleverness or charm. There are no real heroic journeys to follow, only an anti-hero story that went basically nowhere. Even the film’s ending fell flat, with Nicky deciding to go play ball with his African-American buddy next door while blood-soaked bodies are littered about his home. I suppose this ending is intended to offer a sliver of hope, but I found it to be totally contrived.


I fully concur, Scott. This film is supposed to be some sort of cynical look at White America in the 1960s. I suppose what the twin stories is supposed to show is that Suburbicans thought the nice Black family were monsters, when in fact the true monsters were right next door.

There’s a point in the story when the insurance adjuster proclaims “There are just so many coincidences. One coincidence smells bad, but too many make a story smell really bad.” He could easily have been talking about this very movie. The boy, Nicky is not supposed to be at the initial police line up, but there he is. He’s not supposed to be in the room, but there he is. Someone turns the light on, and the bad guys can see him through the two-way mirror. And this is just in the first 20 minutes of the film. Truly, a more contrived set of circumstances could not have been created in a motion picture.

The thing that really grinds my gears is that this is not the film we were sold in the trailers. If you look at them, they sold us a dark comedy about a milquetoast man who defends his family, home, and neighborhood from the onslaught of an external mafia invasion. That seems interesting. But this film, whatever it thought it was, was not anywhere near what was promised.


There is an anti-hero’s journey of sorts, with Gardner descending into a dark world (which he’s made for himself). His descent gets deeper as one mishap after another seals his fate. Gardner doesn’t really undergo any type of transformation, although one could possibly argue that his villainy escalates during his attempt to save his skin. The secondary plot is void of any hero’s journey or transformation unless, again, one makes the argument that the neighborhood’s intolerance of the African-American family grows increasingly hostile over time.


I fully agree, Scott. The confusing thing about this story is that it’s told pretty much from the point of view of the young boy, Nicky. And yet, it’s the story of the anti-hero father. The story of the next-door-neighbor Black family is merely a side-by-side comparison. Nothing is learned and the artistic statement falls flat. This was a total waste of celluloid. Oh wait, this was a digital movie, so there’s a small win in that no film was harmed in the making of this story.

Suburbicon was a complete waste of time and resources. George Clooney and his Coen brother friends have lost their minds thinking that they were telling some sort of tale of White corruption. In fact, they promised a campy comedy and delivered a complete zero of a movie. Sadly, several very good performances, camera work, and costuming were also wasted. As much as I wanted to give zero Reels, I have to at least appreciate the visual appeal of this film. I give Suburbicon just 1 Reel out of 5.

The main character is the anti-hero Gardner Lodge. But the story is told through the eyes of young Nicky. If we view this as an anti-hero story we have to decide if the decline and eventual downfall of the protagonist delivered a cautionary tale. I’d say it did not. There is no real message to this story and the journey that both Gardner and young Nicky take leave us nothing of value. I give them 0 out of 5 Heroes.

And finally, we look for transformation in our movies and there is little to be found here. Almost anyone of note in the story ends up dead. Even Gardner is killed not by any action of his own or his son’s, but by accidentally eating the poisoned sandwich Margaret had intended for Nicky. So, Nicky doesn’t even stand up for himself but is saved by happenstance. I award 0 out of 5 Deltas for Suburbicon.

Movie: Transformation: 0  Heroes: 0


Suburbicon might as well have been named Subpar-icon. It baffles me that the Coen brothers and George Clooney bought into this anemic and unsatisfying screenplay. The main story simply describes a crime gone awry, and the peripheral story is merely the depiction of angry racists. It’s sad to give the Coen brothers only 1 Reel out of 5 but that’s all this film deserves.

I see that you’ve given both the heroes and their transformation a rating of zero, Greg. You make a good argument that there is nothing heroically of value, yet there may be a smidgeon of an anti-hero’s journey worth considering. Unlike you, I do see a cautionary tale here, with Gardner reminding us that crime never pays and that karma is a bitch. So I’ll give the anti-heroes 1 measly hero rating out of 5. The paucity of transformation merits (if that’s the right word) a barren 0 out of 5 Deltas.

Movie: Transformation: 0  Heroes:

Marshall •••

Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad, Kate Hudson
Director: Reginald Hudlin
Screenplay: Jacob Koskoff, Michael Koskoff
Biography/Drama, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 118 minutes
Release Date: October 13, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

 


Scott, can you marshall enough interest to review Chadwick Boseman’s latest film?


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

I’m glad the law is on our side with the Marshall in town. Let’s recap.


We’re introduced to Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) in 1941. He’s the head lawyer with the NAACP and his boss has a new job for him. In a small town in the deep south a black man has been wrongly accused of the rape and attempted murder of a well-to-do white woman. Insurance fraud lawyer Sam Friedman (Josh Gad) has been tapped for the defense, but he’s never defended such a case before. And the court has ruled that Marshall cannot defend the defendant because he’s from out of state. So it’s up to Marshall to coach Friedman in the ways of criminal defense to save the life of an innocent man.


Marshall takes steps to give the defendant, Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown, fair and proper representation. But the deck is stacked against him. The judge (James Cromwell) is a personal friend of the prosecuting attorney’s father. Moreover, Friedman is less than thrilled to be involved in the case, as it could ruin his career and endanger his family. Slowly but surely, Marshall and Friedman uncover enough facts to undermine to case against Spell — but not without cost to themselves.


Scott, this film reminds me of Red Tails (2011) in that it tells a historical/biographical story worth telling, but with a lackluster script. Still, Marshall succeeds in relating a story of a black American who does not transform (as in 42) but instead transforms those around him. There are plot elements that don’t really go anywhere (Marshall’s wife is left alone to cope with a miscarriage) – but serve to show his devotion to his mission. I was very worried at the start of this film that the low-budget approach would not do the story justice. But performances by both Boseman and Gad save Marshall from being a campy period piece and instead deliver a powerful story of how far we’ve come in race relations and how far we yet have to go.


I agree, Greg. The hero of our story, Thurgood Marshall, serves as a transforming agent for others. His job is to change attitudes and win hearts, but most importantly, he’s there to win legal cases in the service of delivering racial justice. In this film, Marshall transforms two people specifically: his prosecuting attorney partner Sam Friedman, and the defendant Joseph Spell, whom he convinces to speak the truth and fight back. This movie drives home the point that many oppressed African-Americans feel utterly defeated and rarely fight a system that is rigged against them. Marshall empowers them in meaningful ways.

And speaking of ‘meaning’, perhaps my favorite line of dialogue in the movie occurs near the film’s conclusion, when Marshall is asked how he finds meaning while working on so many individual cases of racial injustice. His reply: “My job isn’t to put out fires. It’s to get rid of fire altogether.” This nice metaphor for racial prejudice underscores Marshall’s vision of the bigger picture. So we see that Marshall’s goal is not simply to transform Friedman and Spell, nor is it to merely exonerate Spell. His mission is to transform those of us in the audience at the theater thereby eliminating prejudice altogether.


Marshall is a flawed but well-thought-out biopic. Rather than trying to tell Marshall’s life story, they exemplify his accomplishments by focusing on one specific event. It’s enough to show us who Marshall was. One of the problems with the film is the overly dramatic nature of it. Many of the scenes seem right out of a 1940s gangster film. Likewise with the dialog. But I am glad the film was made and I found it enlightening. I give Marshall 3 out of 5 Reels.

Heroes don’t come better than Thurgood Marshall. He was fighting an uphill battle against all odds. His is called a ‘flat’ character arc in that he doesn’t change much in the telling of the story. But he changes those around him. I give Thurgood Marshall 5 out of 5 Heroes.

Finally, the transformations of those around Marshall are dramatic. Marshall converts an uninterested insurance fraud lawyer into a civil rights activist. He converts the opinions of the people of the town. He transforms Spell from a man with no hope to a man with honor. I give the transformations in Marshall 4 out of 5 Deltas.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:


You’ve summed it up well, Greg. Marshall is unlikely to win any awards but it does effectively convey the daunting obstacles facing the NAACP and other pre-Civil Rights activists. Thurgood Marshall’s story inspires us to do the right thing and to work for justice event when laws and social forces seem hopelessly conspired against us. I agree that this film deserves a rating of 3 Reels out of 5.

Marshall only gives us a thin slice of Marshall’s overall hero’s journey, but within this slice we do see him in a dangerous world through which he is able to navigate successfully. The journey isn’t easy, but our hero is able to win hearts and influence minds in the direction of racial justice. Marshall doesn’t transform but he sure does trigger a metamorphosis in two key characters and in society as a whole. I’ll give his hero’s journey a rating of 4 out of 5 and his transformative effect on others a rating of 4 Deltas out of 5.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:

Blade Runner 2049 ••••1/2

Starring: Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Screenplay: Hampton Fancher, Michael Green
Mystery/Sci-Fi/Thriller, Rated: R
Running Time: 164 minutes
Release Date: October 6, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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Scott, it’s time to run, don’t walk to the theater and see Blade Runner: 2049.


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

This blade is sharp indeed. Let’s recap.


It’s the year 2049 and we’re introduced to ‘K’ (Ryan Gosling). He’s an android developed specifically for the purpose of hunting down and killing renegade androids. His boss Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) is very concerned because K has just killed an android that left behind a strange box. When K opens it he finds the bony remains of a female android that appears to have had a caesarian section implying that the unthinkable has happened – an android has reproduced.


K is ordered by Joshi to find the replicant offspring and “retire” it. The deceased female replicant is identified as ‘Rachel’, and K discovers that she had a relationship with a former blade runner. Meanwhile, the head of the company that manufactures replicants, Wallace (Jared Leto) sends his henchwoman Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) to steal Rachel’s remains and to find the child.


Scott, Blade Runner 2049 is a great sequel to the original 1982 film. LIke its predecessor, 2049 is a bit ponderous – director Denis Villeneuve really takes his time setting up and executing each scene. And the scenes are constructed with great care and deliberation – which is to say that they are very detailed. The story is also told with great care and deliberation. It’s basically a mystery with clues left along the way as well as red herrings.

The movie clocks in at 2 hours and 45 minutes – which is long by almost any standard. I thought there were several places where scenes could have been more economical. We see a lot of shots of K deep in thought (which Gosling is known for). This feels more like a director’s cut than a theatrical release. The special effects were very good and at times it felt like the director was offering pornagraphic material – not so much because of nude bodies, but because he lingered so long on the effect.

I was also disappointed in the lack of scenes with Harrison Ford (Deckard, from the original) as he is featured prominently in the trailers (and listed as a costar).


Greg, we’re in agreement about this film’s excellence. Blade Runner 2049 is a masterfully constructed sci-fi flick that sets a very high bar for future work in this genre. Director Villeneuve makes exquisite use of space – I’m referring to the space between people, between objects, between buildings, etc. There’s also deft use of lighting and shadowing, along with creative camera angles that accentuate tension and emotional impact within a character. The craftsmanship here should earn Villeneuve an Oscar nomination, at the very least.

Yes, the movie strained my bladder, and I’d like to start a petition requiring movies to run no longer than two hours. If you can’t tell a story in 120 minutes, then you aren’t a good storyteller. Movie directors seem to fall in love with their work and can’t bear to leave a frame of their precious film on the cutting room floor. It would have been nice indeed to see more of Harrison Ford, but he appears to have reached the stage of his career when he plays more supporting roles than lead roles. Personally I believe he can still carry a movie on his geezerly shoulders, but Villeneuve doesn’t give him the chance here.


K as the hero of the film is worth following. Unlike his predecessor, Deckard, K is outed in the opening scroll as a replicant (android). It’s interesting to see this character treated as a slave and at the same time contemplate his own existence. We’re witness to K’s gradual realization that he is “the one” (a replicant born of a female replicant). Then the sudden revelation that he is not the one. It’s jarring both for the character and the audience.


You’ve identified perhaps the most fascinating element of the hero’s journey here, Greg. While all hero’s journeys are a search for identity, this film is daring in depicting an identity dead-end for our hero K. Believing for a while that he was “the chosen one”, he is instead left absorbing the reality of his ordinariness. This film is strong enough to get away with an identity realization that defies heroic convention. I could be cynical here by pointing out that this anti-revelation merely paves the way to yet another sequel, but I’d say there’s more going on here. The “treasure we seek,” in the words of Joseph Campbell, is rarely the treasure that we think we’re seeking. This film was so long that the treasure I sought was the nearest urinal.


There is no transformation for the world in which K lives. However, we do see K transform from a lost slave performing the duties he told to execute, into a self-aware and self-actualized individual. He makes decisions for himself and makes his own destiny. It’s not clear if he survives the film, although it doesn’t look good for him. And Deckard appears to have gone from just existing in his wasteland to caring about what happens to his offspring. It’s true that these transformations appear to be setting us up for a sequel, but it’s a sequel I’m looking forward to.


Blade Runner 2049 ranks among the best science fiction films of the past several years. This is true movie-making, a film crafted with careful attention to every frame, every camera angle, and every line of dialogue. The story also makes the bold move of defying an iconic convention of hero storytelling, namely, the illumination of the hero’s special identity. We thus see how skillful storytellers know how to break the rules. I award Blade Runner: 2049 a glowing rating of 4 Reels out of 5.

Ryan Gosling is cast perfectly in the role of K. a dutiful replicant who goes rogue in response to surprising revelations about his possible new identity. His hero’s journey contains the classic elements from Joseph Campbell’s monomyth of the hero — a departure to a startling new world followed by an initiation of trials, villains, detours, and discovery. This film gifts us with a terrific hero tale worthy of 4 Hero points out of 5.

Greg, you’re right about K’s transformation from a brutal slave enlisted simply to “retire” outdated replicants to an enlightened and empowered near-human being. In our Reel Heroes & Villains book, we describe five types of transformations: moral, mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical. In this film, K undergoes a mental transformation, as his entire worldview is turned upside-down. K’s growth is this film is fascinating to watch and it earns him 4 transformative Deltas out of 5.

 Movie: Transformation: Heroes:


Scott, I couldn’t agree more. Despite the long running time and rather slow delivery, this is a film worth both waiting for and wading through. It’s artful, entertaining, and is every bit as good as the original. I can’t see how to improve it — 5 out of 5 Reels.

K’s journey from obedient slave to rising acolyte, to fallen hero is a great hero’s journey. It’s a heroic transformation that we don’t get to see often. And it was so skillfully delivered that I have to give a full 5 Heroes and 5 Deltas. Excellent.

 Movie: Transformation: Heroes: