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Unsane ••••

Starring: Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharoah
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Screenplay: Jonathan Bernstein, James Greer
Horror/Thriller, Rated: R
Running Time: 98 minutes
Release Date: March 23, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!


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

Greg, if 7-up is the un-cola, could Dr. Pepper be the un-sanity?


Um… Ok. Let’s take a look at a veiled take-down of the mental health profession as we review Unsane.


We meet young Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy), a woman who has recently moved 500 miles away from her hometown and is trying to establish a new life. She is depressed and seeks help from a psychiatrist, who commits Sawyer against her will to a mental institution. Sawyer’s efforts to escape only serve to convince the staff that she requires even more institutionalization. Her only friend in this hospital is a man named Nate (Jay Pharoah), who is spending four weeks there to recover from his opioid addiction.


Sawyer has given in to the fact that she will have to spend a week held against her will, when she meets an orderly, George, who she claims is her stalker, David Strine (Walton Goggins). Nobody believes her, least of all the audience. Sawyer is paranoid and explosively violent. But soon, String drugs Sawyer and we’re all in on it – Strine has followed Sawyer from Boston and is stalking her even in captivity. Now, Sawyer has to find a way out of her mental prison and escape this dangerous man.


Greg, Unsane gives us a suspenseful depiction of a young woman’s involuntary incarceration in a mental hospital. This movie is packed with villains. There is the deranged stalker who makes life miserable for our hero. There are the evil hospital administrators who knowingly imprison Sawyer for profit. There is also the American healthcare system that incentivizes hospitals to ensnare captive victims such as our hero. This film is disturbing yet effective, and giant kudos go to Claire Foy who does a terrific job playing a tormented hero.

This is as dark a hero’s journey as we’ve ever seen, Greg. At the outset of the story we see that our hero is struggling emotionally and socially. Attempting to get help from a psychiatrist totally backfires on her, and then we learn that her crazed stalker is in charge of dispensing her medications. She gets help from her mother and from Nate, both of whom are soon eliminated by the stalker. This is one of those films where the hero is left completely on her own and must summon inner reserves necessary to vanquish the villain. Sawyer musters the courage and grit to outwit her nemesis. Is she transformed by her harrowing experience?

The film’s final scene suggests that she is not transformed, that she remains a slave to her inner demons. This lack of transformation represents a deviation from the normal hero story pattern, and I think it was done intentionally to underscore the deep scarring of sexual violence in our society. Sawyer should most certainly not simply go on with her life as if nothing had happened. To do so would diminish the trauma and seriousness of this deep societal problem.


Scott, this movie gave me flashbacks to Misery. We have an unwelcome admirer who uses a medical condition to trap our hero. There’s even a scene where the villain, Strine, hobbles our hero by smashing her ankles with a hammer.

Otherwise, I thought this a skillfully played ‘cause’ film – a film that wants to promote a cause through storytelling. Unlike other cause films (such as 2016 The Promise which did a terrible job of exposing Armenian genocide), Unsane focuses on delivering a psychological thriller while at the same time exposing corruption in the mental health system. Unsane shines a light on mental health at a time when there is much lip-service paid to it in the United States.


Unsane is a first-rate thriller that had me on the edge of my seat and had my heart pounding. It is predictable in spots – do we ever doubt that Nate will bite the dust? But despite a few lapses, Unsane soars on the strength of its star, Claire Foy. She shines in the role and gives us a searingly convincing victim of stalking and harassment. Unsane deserves a rating of 4 Reels out of 5.

As I’ve noted, Sawyer’s hero’s journey is among the darkest and grimmest we’ve seen in quite a while. We just reviewed Tomb Raider and commended the physicality of its star Alicia Vikander. In Unsane, similar commendations go to Claire Foy, who exudes a remarkable physical presence in combating her fellow patients, hospital staff, and stalker. Sawyer also has many of the Great Eight traits of heroes — she is smart, strong, resilient, reliable, and inspiring. Is she caring and selfless, too? Yes, as she shows compassion for her mother and for Nate. I give her 4 Hero points out of 5.

Several archetypes do stand out in this film: the innocent victim, the evil corporation, the deranged stalker, the guilt-mongering mother, and the slain ally to the hero. I award them 3 archetype Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


Unsane is an interesting movie for a couple of reasons. First, it has long uncut scenes of mostly dialog. Second, it was filmed completely on an iPhone 7 by writer/director Steven Soderbergh. Soderbergh is known for creating minimalistic and experimental works. See his project Mosaic – a choose-your-own adventure for mobile viewers. I was impressed with the accomplishment of creating a good psychological thriller with a minimum of overhead. I give Unsane 4 out of 5 Reels.

Sawyer is the epitome of the unreliable narrator. She is psychologically damaged. And she very well should have been committed for observation. But when she sees her stalker nobody, not even we, believe her. Even though we know she is damaged, we are pulling for her because we see she is strong and resilient – two qualities we look for in a hero. I give her 4 out of 5 Heroes.

For archetypes, I’ll see your INNOCENT VICTIM and raise you a WITLESS DOCTOR who is a COG IN THE MACHINE along with the EVIL ADMINISTRATOR. I give them 3 out of 5 Arcs.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Tomb Raider •••

Starring: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins
Director: Roar Uthaug
Screenplay: Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Alastair Siddons
Action/Adventure, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 118 minutes
Release Date: March 16, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!


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

Greg, right now I feel like raiding the refrigerator.


Resist the urge, Scott, because Lara Croft is about to do her best Indiana Jones impression. Let’s recap:


We meet Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander), a young woman who lost her father (Dominic West) seven years earlier. She’s never quite accepted that he’s dead and refuses to sign legal papers entitling her to her inheritance. One day she is about to sign the papers but is given a clue left by her father which leads her to his secret office. There she discovers that her father had been researching the island of Himiko, where the evil Queen of Yamatai is said to have been entombed.


She travels to China and enlists the aid of boat captain Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), who sails her to Himiko where they crash land. They encounter Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins) who enslaves them and puts them to work mining for Yamatai’s tomb. She escapes and finds her father who has been thwarting Vogel’s plan for the last seven years. And now she determines to steal Vogel’s satellite phone and get her father, Ren, and herself off the island.


Greg, it’s hard to believe that 37 years have passed since Raiders of the Lost Ark appeared on the scene, and yet here we are still watching movies that are derivative of this classic film. Tomb Raider isn’t a bad movie, it’s just a movie that we’ve seen before in many variations. On the bright side, we’re treated to a great performance from Alicia Vikander whose athleticism and charisma are on full display in her portrayal of Lara Croft. On the not-so-bright side, the story is formulaic and predictable, reminding us that the recycling of old ideas can only take a movie so far.

There certainly is a vivid hero’s journey awaiting our hero Lara Croft. Her father’s disappearance hurls her onto her journey, which first consists of angry reckless rebellion. Lara becomes empowered when her father leaves her clues to his whereabouts, and her journey to Himiko tests her mentally, physically, and emotionally. She displays epic amounts of resourcefulness and transforms herself into someone greater than her father, which is exactly the pathway to enlightenment that what we want to see in any good hero story.


This Lara Croft is not the same hero we met in Angelina Jolie’s 2001 incarnation of Tomb Raider. In 2001, Lara is a fully-formed hero – in more ways than one. She is already an adventurer who has a large fortune and wields all kinds of weapons. And she was played by a woman who resembles the video game character with long legs and large breasts.

To the director’s credit, Vikander’s Croft is a leaner, more athletic, younger woman. She has eschewed her father’s fortunes and is still in fight training. In the opening scenes we see her defeated by another woman fighter – so this Lara Croft has a ways to go before she’s a complete hero. In fact, Tomb Raider is an origin story for Lara Croft. It isn’t until she realizes that her father may be alive that she goes on the journey that turns her into the adventurer she must be.

However, this is as far as the movie goes. The vast majority of this film plays out like a video game. There is a succession of puzzles and clues that must be solved to get to the next stage of the movie. This makes for a rather plot-less presentation and made me feel as if Tomb Raider is a mere advertisement for an upcoming video game release.


Croft’s journey is full of peril at every turn, requiring her to summon the courage, grit, and resourcefulness that every hero needs to complete her mission. Her father is her mentor and she realizes that she must outgrow him in almost every way to bring them both home safely. Because I’m not a fan of the video game, I had trouble appreciating all the different stages of the journey that correspond to game-challenges. I also had trouble maintaining any interest in all the hazards and secret buttons and gimmicks in the cave. We’ve seen this far too many times in the movies.

There are plenty of rich archetypes in this film. Once again we have the missing father and the orphan child who strives to overcome her family deficit. Lara is a misfit, an underdog who nobody expects to succeed. There is also plenty of magic in the story, and with it is what I will call the myth of pure evil. This is one aspect of the movie that I applaud, namely, the evil demon woman of Himiko turns out not to be evil but infected with a hideous disease. It’s a nice surprising turn of events in a movie that is otherwise predictable.


Tomb Raider was an enjoyable, if predictable film. While it doesn’t offer all the glitz of contemporary action-adventure films, I enjoyed the return to Indiana Jones-type storytelling. I agree with you, Scott, that this film had a few too many flashbacks to Raiders of the Lost Ark. But for a modern, younger audience who haven’t seen those films, it might be novel. I give Tomb Raider 3 out of 5 Reels.

Lara Croft is a hero cut from the same mold as Katniss from Hunger Games and Tris from Divergent. While I’m a little tired of women being limited to bows and arrows (Katniss, Merida from Brave, Neytiri from Avatar, Mulan, to name just a few), I was happy to find she was independent and strong. I give Lara Croft 4 out of 5 Heroes.

Yet again, we’re presented with the ABSENT FATHER archetype that we see in a lot of female-centric films (see Molly’s Game, A Wrinkle in Time). I’d like to see a different device in the future. Surely young women have more obstacles to overcome than neglectful men. You’ve already named the ORPHAN CHILD (which is a staple in Disney Princess films) and the PURE EVIL VILLAIN. Happily, there was also the FALLEN FRIEND in Vogel and the SIDEKICK FRIEND in Lu Ren. I give these archetypes 3 out of 5 Arcs.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


You’re right, Greg, about Tomb Raider being fun for a younger audience that has never seen any of the Indiana Jones movies. There is a fresh adventurous spirit to this film, and Alicia Vikander won me over with her bold, brash physicality and determination. This movie will win no awards but it is two hours of good mindless fun. Like you, I give it 3 Reels out of 5.

Lara Croft’s journey is packed full of snares and tribulations that require her to adapt and grow in the ways that every good hero should. She has all eight traits of the “great eight” traits of heroes: She is strong, smart, resilient, reliable, charismatic, selfless, caring, and inspiring. I award her 4 Hero points out of 5. With regard to archetypes, Tomb Raider has more than its share of rich archetypal images. We’ve already reviewed them, and so I’ll give my rating of 3 archetype Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

A Wrinkle In Time ••1/2

Starring: Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon
Director: Ava DuVernay
Screenplay: Jennifer Lee, Jeff Stockwell
Adventure/Family/Fantasy, Rated: PG
Running Time: 109 minutes
Release Date: March 9, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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I thought this was a movie about an old guy who arrives just in time.


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

Chris Pine has just enough gray in his beard for you to be right, Greg. Let’s recap.


We’re introduced to young Meg Murry (Storm Reid) who is bullied at school because her astrophysicist father (Chris Pine) went missing four years ago. She has an adoptive brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) who is a child savant and sees the world in ways that Meg cannot, her pain at being abandoned by her father blocking her vision. Then one day, a magical “witch” appears – Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) – who tells her that she and her brother are able to follow her father through the magic of the Tesseract – a way of folding space-time that her father and PhD mother were researching.


Two other magical witches appear, Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), and joining the kids on their journey to find their father is neighborhood kid Calvin (Levi Miller). The witches first take the kid to a luminous planet with intelligent flowers who inform them that Mr. Murry had been there but had left. Here they also learn about the great evil force of the universe, IT, which is spreading. They must find their father on the planet Camazotz where they must defeat evil to find Mr. Murry.


Scott, it’s rare for a movie to be better than the book, but A Wrinkle in Time succeeds. The book is plagued by a first-half that merely takes our heroes from exotic planet to exotic planet without furthering the plot. This incarnation abandons the world-building-for-world-buildings-sake plot for a more compact telling.

However, the movie maintains a critical problem with the book in that it has no clear villain. The “IT” is an amorphous blob that reaches out into the universe like spiney tindrels. As we noted in our book Reel Heroes and Villains the best villains are those who have a physical, personal presence. These sorts of “pure evil” villains leave little to the imagination and are difficult to have an argument with.

Director Ava DuVernay eventually uses the device of having Charles Wallace be possessed by the IT so that Meg can have an emotional discourse with IT. While it’s not particularly entertaining, it is much better than fighting a largely unseeable villain.


Greg, A Wrinkle in Time is a movie with a big heart and certainly means well. Somehow, this noble intention coupled with big star-power doesn’t add up to a successful movie. My theory is that the film does a poor job of identifying its audience. If it’s pitched to kids, then why throw around fancy theories of space and time? If it’s pitched to adults, why give us dialogue at the second grade level? It doesn’t help that the three witches are silly-looking and even sillier-sounding. I recently watched The Wizard of Oz — its 1939 rendition of Glinda The Good Witch far outshines Wrinkle’s CGI-infested portrayals of Who, Whatsit, and Which.

I did enjoy some elements of the film, particularly its message of the unsurpassed transformative power of love. There is also a great theme of our defects hiding our strengths, with our wounds being the place where the light enters us. These are great messages to pass onto both kids and adults.


Scott, director DuVernay has been criticised for her use of a young Black girl as the protagonist. I’ve read complaints that Wrinkle is a love letter to them. If so, then good for her. So many movies are aimed at young white men (think of any action adventure film, Harry Potter, Transformers etc…) that one film that lifts up and enriches girls is both far overdue and very welcome. We’re treated to a young woman who is highly intelligent, fearless, and sensitive. And she’s mentored by three strong and wise women. Despite Wrinkle’s many flaws, I suspect in 10 or 20 years there will be millions of women who look back on A Wrinkle in Time as an inspiration.


Greg, I’m shocked to hear that anyone has a problem with a female African-American playing the lead role in a movie. I think you’d agree with me that less than 1% of the movies we review feature a Black woman in the hero’s role. We need more fair demographic representation of people of color in the movies, not less.

There are some notable archetypes in A Wrinkle in Time that are worth mentioning. Our hero Meg Murry is an outcast and an orphan, which positions her as an underdog whom we root for. Another underdog is her friend Calvin who joins them on the journey. We also have the young genius archetype in Charles Wallace, who (when he’s not possessed) is smarter than any other human character. There is also the mad scientist archetype (Mr. and Mrs. Murry), the good magical Witch archetype, and the pure evil demon villain (IT).


A Wrinkle in Time is a fantastic voyage with dark overtones which I believe will become a cult favorite similar to 1984’s Neverending Story. And as with the latter film, Wrinkle has a number of flaws that make for a good child’s fantasy, but leave adults wanting. I give A Wrinkle in Time 3 out of 5 Reels.

Meg is a wonderful hero who is smart, fearless, resilient, and capable. We want her to find her father – and ultimately it is her combination of intelligence and heart that save him. She’s flawed in that she can’t see beyond the pain of her abandonment by her father and her inability to accept love and feelings as being as valid as any science. I give Meg 4 out of 5 Heroes.

You’ve nailed the archetypes: The MENTOR, the ABSENT FATHER, the MAD SCIENTIST, CHILD SAVANT, FRIEND SIDEKICK, PURE EVIL VILLAIN. This movie has them all. I award 4 Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


A Wrinkle in Time is a child-like adventure tale that I would only recommend for children below the age of 10. It saddens me that the filmmakers here didn’t pitch the movie to a mature audience, because certainly the message of the film is timeless and potentially transformative for us all. I wish I could award Wrinkle more than 2 Reels out of 5 but I can’t.

There is most definitely a stirring hero’s journey here, with Meg and her friends led on an interplanetary adventure that teaches them valuable life lessons about love, loyalty, family, and good and evil. I see some classic elements of the hero’s journey, such as friendship, mentorship, and transformation. As such, I’ll award 4 Hero points out of 5.

With regard to archetypes, there are plenty of them for us to sink our teeth into. None of them moved me to any great degree, perhaps because I’m not in the film’s intended demographic. I’ll give the movie 3 archetype Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Red Sparrow ••••

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts
Director: Francis Lawrence
Screenplay: Justin Haythe, Jason Matthews
Drama/Mystery/Thriller, Rated: R
Running Time: 140 minutes
Release Date: March 2, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!


First there was Black Panther and now a Red Sparrow.


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

What’s next, Green Lantern? Let’s recap.


We’re introduced to ballerina Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence). She is at the top of her game when an on-stage accident breaks her leg and ruins her career. Enter her uncle, Vanya Eborov (Matthias Schoenaerts). He’s the head of Russian intelligence and wants her to seduce a Russian politician and swipe his phone for evidence. When she gets the man to his room, an agent comes in through the window and strangles him dead. Now Dominika knows too much. So her uncle gives her an option to become a “Sparrow” – a deadly agent who uses sex to influence enemies of the state.


Dominika chooses to work for her uncle, as the alternative could possibly mean her own death. Her sparrow training reveals her toughness and especially a keen ability to read people’s motives. Uncle Vanya assigns her to the task of “befriending” American CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton), who has established a relationship with a Russian mole in the Russian intelligence agency. Complications arise when Dominika senses Nate’s inherent goodness and becomes tempted to betray her Uncle.


Scott, I was prepared for this movie to be another like 2017’s Atomic Blonde or even 2010’s Salt – both of which featured leading ladies in pure action-adventure, but very little plot. Red Sparrow surprised and enthused me with it’s strong story interlaced with action-as-needed.

The plot plays out in a typical Bourne-esque way with our hero going undercover and befriending Nash. But along the way we see clues to the final twist that makes it all worthwhile. We see Dominika picking up evidence, or plant suspicions that we think are inconsequential. But in the end, she’s plotting her revenge on her uncle and her eventual escape from the Red Sparrows. Her uncle tells her that she must “do anything and everything to succeed in her mission.” What he doesn’t know is that her mission is to escape him.


Greg, Red Sparrow is of the best movies in the spy-thriller genre that we’ve seen in years. Jennifer Lawrence sizzles on the screen, and her sizzle derives from a constellation of heroic factors, most notably her strength, resourcefulness, courage, resilience, and adaptability. Once again Hollywood gives us a woman hero who is stronger and smarter than all of her male counterparts. I understand there are some criticisms of the film based on the exploitation of Dominika’s sexuality. These critics have a point in that a woman’s heroism should be no more based on her sexuality than a man’s should. A notable recent example is Wonder Woman, which showcases a female hero who reveals her best heroic self without resorting to any sexual themes.

I love your phrase, “action-as-needed” to describe what we encounter in this film. However, having said that, we witness one of the most harrowing torture scenes we’ve encountered in the movies in years. Were these unconsented skin-grafts needed? Or were we shown too much pain and gore? I can appreciate the filmmakers’ conundrum here, as audiences have come to expect bathtubs of blood and anything less is tame and lame. For me, the most important element of the movie that makes it work is the hero’s journey, and my goodness, Dominika is sent on a rich, dynamic, and roller-coaster of a journey that would have made Joseph Campbell proud.


Dominika is as heroic as they come. She lies, cheats, and steals to get her way. All the time we think she’s trying to manipulate her American accomplice Nash, she’s really laying the groundwork for a greater plan. So while she has the power, authenticity, and morality of a hero – she has control of the dark side of a villain.

While I hear your concern about the overt sexuality in the film – I think what’s important is that Dominika never gives up agency of her body. In one scene she is attacked in the shower and beats her fellow student to a pulp. When she’s told she should have let him have his way – she is instructed to strip down and “give him what he wants.” She obeys – disrobing in front of her entire class. But when the man approaches her, she commands him to take her. He cannot perform and she reveals what he really wants: “Power.” Dominika was in control of all the men around her, and only gave her body when she decided she wanted to.


With its intriguing plotline and unforgettable heroes and villains, Red Sparrow held my full interest and earns high marks for its style, steam and sizzle. Jennifer Lawrence shows us some new range and flexes her acting chops in nearly every scene. This film deserves credit for delivering an ending that surprised and delighted me. Were there flaws? Yes, the Russian stereotype as cold and robotic is in full force here, and Nate, our hero’s male love interest, is just a bit too perfect. Still, I was very much entertained and have no problem awarding this film 4 Reels out of 5.

Dominika’s hero’s journey begins with her leg being deliberately shattered, an “accident” likely ordered by her nefarious uncle. From there she descends into one unthinkably painful circumstance after another, yet she adapts brilliantly, usually staying one step ahead of the dangers around her. Nash assists her yet also nearly gets her killed, and in the end Dominika’s brilliant strategy for extricating herself from her uncle is the stuff of heroism at its finest. I give our Russian hero 4 Hero points out of 5.

There are plenty of archetypes to see here as well. We have the strong fem-fatale in Dominika; an evil uncle that Norwegian psychologist Paul Moxnes has identified as a “dark prince” in storytelling; a pure evil Red Sparrow teacher and psychopathic Russian torturer; and Dominika’s inept boss who Dominika outwits. Overall, these archetypes work quite well and earn a rating of 3 Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


Red Sparrow delivers a suspenseful story filled with intrigue and an unexpected twist. The violence plays into the story rather than strictly for spectacle. I give Red Sparrow 4 out of 5 Reels.

Dominika is strong and competent – qualities we look for in a hero. As well has mastering the negative traits of a villain (lying, deceit, and torture) to get what she needs. In the end she vanquishes the villain and saves her mother. She is a classic hero and I give her 4 out of 5 Heroes.

We see several archetypes including the EVIL UNCLE in Vanya, the WOUNDED MOTHER, and the BENEFICENT AGENT OF GOOD in Nash. I give them 3 out of 5 Arcs.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Game Night •••

Starring: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler
Director: John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein
Screenplay: Mark Perez
Comedy/Crime/Mystery, Rated: R
Running Time: 100 minutes
Release Date: February 23, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!


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

Greg, are you game to write this next review?


I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wanted to win. Let’s recap:


We meet Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams), two 30-somethings who fell in love and got married as a result of their passion for playing games such as charades, trivia pursuit, and jenga. They live next door to Gary (Jesse Plemons) an odd policeman separated from his wife. Gary once was invited to Max and Annie’s game nights but now he is no longer invited. Max’s brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) arrives in town, and we learn that Max feels insecure because he can never seem to measure up to his big brother.


Brooks, feeling the need to one-up Max again, invites Max and his friends to his house for a game night. He has paid for an “experience” where actors will break into his house and abduct one of them. Then, the rest must follow the clues to retrieve the kidnapped player. The winner receives a classic 1976 Corvette Stingray. But things are thrown for a loop when real kidnappers break in and take Brooks. Max and their friends still think it’s a game and go on a mission to find Brooks never knowing the danger they’re in.


Greg, this film is a clever prank-fest where in scene after scene we’re left guessing what’s a game and what isn’t, and it’s all in good fun. The performances are outstanding, especially Jesse Plemons in the role of creepy Gary who surprises us late in the movie with some clever hijinx. I was also impressed by the clever screenwriting, evidenced by the callback to Fight Club and in the way the various pieces of the storyline are resolved.

Lurking beneath the screwball elements of this dark comedy is a fairly nice hero’s journey. Our group ensemble of heroes are hurled onto the journey by the game set up by Brooks, and on another deeper level by the hijacking of the game by the film’s villains. We watch our heroes fall into a few predictable traps and then generate amusing ways to extricate themselves. You know it’s a comedy when a bullet through the arm is treated like an insect bite. Still, our heroes do triumph and we happily witness a transformed brotherly bond between Max and Brooks.


Yes, I was also favorably impressed with Game Night. You surely cannot take this film seriously in any way. But if you like other Jason Bateman films (Horrible Bosses, Office Christmas Party) then you will not be disappointed.

Max is an everyman. He’s a good husband, and a good friend. He has a problem many suburbanites have: what do you do when a neighbor couple gets divorced and the remaining “friend” is the one you don’t like?

Max also has a missing inner quality in that he competes with his older brother and is never measuring up. Even the latest game that Brooks has created is beyond anything he’s provided for his wife and friends. So the odyssey that he goes on to find and rescue his brother is really a search to mend this missing hurt. It’s a great platform for any story, but making this the basis for a comedy makes Game Night not just madcap fun, but engaging and endearing.


Let’s get right to the ratings. To put it simply, Game Night is loads of fun and throws in just enough surprises and twists to have kept my keen interest throughout the 90 minutes of airtime. There will be no Golden Globe or Oscar awards here, but don’t let that deter you from giving Game Night a viewing. If you’re in the mood for ridiculous madcap rompings and clever storytelling at the most superficial level, then this film is the elixir you’re looking for. I award it 3 Reels out of 5. I’ve already described the hero’s journey of our ensemble of heroes, and it’s solid enough to also earn 3 Hero points out of 5 as well.

There are several notable archetypes worth mentioning here. There is the social misfit in Gary, and as you point out Greg, it’s rewarding to witness Gary’s transformation from creepy lurker to a mainstream game-playing buddy with his neighbors. We also have the archetype of the perfect older sibling with whom our hero (seemingly) cannot compete. Then there is the exotic foreign villain, the Bulgarians, along with some throwaway actors who represent the face of this evil. Overall, I have to once again give these archetypes 3 Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


That pretty well sums it up, Scott. I liked this film. Especially the loving relationship between Max and his wife Annie. So often we see comedy derived from the tension between spouses. Like 2014’s Neighbors the plot and comedy are strengthened by their love and respect for each other. I give Game Night 3 out of 5 Reels.

Max and Brooks have a classic brother-feud. Max has revelations that pour salve on his feelings of inadequacy towards Brooks. It’s a nice hero’s journey that I can award 3 Heroes out of 5. And the archetypes are simple enough – HUSBAND, WIFE, OLDER BROTHER. They also get 3 out of 5 Arcs.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Black Panther •••••

Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o
Director: Ryan Coogler
Screenplay: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole
Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 134 minutes
Release Date: February 16, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!


It looks like Marvel is putting out a Pink Panther sequel.


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

Shirley you jest, Greg. This panther is fiercer and greater in every way. Let’s recap.


It’s 1992 in Oakland and the king of the hidden futuristic city of Wakanda is hunting the thief who stole vials of vibranium – a powerful metal from outer space. The thief is the king’s brother who is summarily executed leaving behind a young son. In the present-day Wakanda, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), son of the king, is challenged for the throne and must defend his right by hand-to-hand combat. Once T’Challa succeeds, he goes to South Korea in search of Klaue (Andy Serkis) – an arms trader who has stolen Wakandan artifacts and must be brought to justice.


Meanwhile N’Jobu’s (Sterling K. Brown) son, Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), has plans to use Wakanda’s riches, including vibranium, to liberate Africans worldwide from their oppressors. After Klaue attempts to sell the artifacts to CIA agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman), Killmonger arrives to kill Klaue. He then brings Klaue’s body to Wakanda where Killmonger announces his true claim to the throne. T’Challa accepts the challenge and the two men engage in hand-to-hand combat, with a surprising final outcome.


Scott, origin stories can be boring. Usually, we get a movie where the first half of the film is taken up with the hero getting their new powers (“hey, I just got bitten by a spider”), learns to use them (“I’m going to need a suit and web slingers”), and by the midpoint has become the hero they were meant to be. The second half is the chasing down and vanquishing of the villain. So, you often get two weak half-movies for the price of one. Not much fun.

Black Panther is different. Our hero starts out as a fully formed hero. But his father dies, leaving a vacuum in the land of Wakanda that can only be filled by ritual battle. Our hero steps up to the challenge and becomes king. But there’s a catch, one of T’Challa’s detractors forces his hand and now the search is on for the notorious Klaue.

Another difference with this film is the wealth of characters. This can be a problem in a 2-hour flick because often there is no time for the secondary characters to develop any depth. But Black Panther skillfully manages this by creating scenes that allow all the characters to participate. As much as this is T’Challa’s story, it is also the story of his family and faithful followers.


You’re right about Black Panther deviating from the origin story norm. From the opening credits, this film is a story about home — finding it, discovering its hidden powers, using those powers to better the world, and seeing home at ever more deeper levels. There are so many great elements of storytelling here. We are treated to reflections on the importance of family, the important linkage to one’s ancestors, the tragedy of colonialism, and the searing legacy of enslavement. It’s a rich narrative about fathers, masculinity, and the sins of the father that the son tries to correct.

I urge readers to check out my colleague Patrice Rankine’s erudite analysis of Black Panther in which he connects the film’s thematic highlights to biblical imagery and classic mythology. Both the hero and the villain of the story have a royal past, and each holds claim to the throne. While the hero is worthy of the status of hero, the villain is morally complex and leaves us pondering the worthiness of his agenda. The best villains in cinema have some redeeming qualities that leave us questioning their villainy and pondering whether they are redeemable. Regarding our hero, Rankine points out that near the film’s end T’Challa addresses the United Nations with a new accent reflecting his transformation into Africa’s international icon. As a result of his journey, T’Challa is forever changed and ready to lead his people toward collective enlightenment.


Black Panther is an artistic marvel (if you will pardon the pun). Everything about it exudes quality – the acting, the costumes, the dialog, world building, backstories, characterizations. This was not a haphazard affair as so many superhero movies have been (see my recent opinion of Thor: Ragnarok). I rarely rate a film above 4 Reels, reserving the highest rating for films that could not have been better made. Surely Black Panther is as good as it gets. I give it 5 Reels out of 5.

As a hero, T’Challa has it all. He starts out feeling entitled, learns that his father was not perfect, falls from grace, and must rise up (with the help of family and friends) to become the hero he is meant to be. It takes the entirety of the film for this transformation to occur. And it is well worth the wait. I give T’Challa 5 out of 5 Heroes.

Black Panther has a wealth of archetypes to choose from. There’s the KING FATHER in T’Challa’s father, the QUEEN MOTHER, the BRATTY SISTER. This is a very strong family hierarchy as laid out by Moxnes. Meanwhile, the RETURNING SON wants to take back the throne. The MENTOR advisor lays down his life for T’Challa. As I said before, it is a credit to the writers that everyone gets plenty of screen time and are well-developed, strong characters. I give them all 5 Arcs out of 5.

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You’ve summed it up well, Gregger. Black Panther takes superhero storytelling to a bold, new level of complexity and wonder. Every great hero story is about home. Here we see a hero transforming himself and his people as a result of finding his home and discovering the full potential of himself and his home. There is so much of substance in this film regarding family, ancestry, women, masculinity, and redemption, that we can only scratch the surface here. Suffice to say this movie earns the full 5 Reels out of 5.

T’Challa’s journey is fascinating as it unfolds in ways he never could anticipate. This is the hallmark of good heroic storytelling, as heroes can only transform themselves by encountering unexpected and unsought turbulence, villains, allies, and mentors. Black Panther gifts us with a unique origin story of a superhero from whom we will hear plenty in the coming years. I award him 4 Hero points out of 5.

You’ve mentioned the depth of the archetypal images invoked in this film. There are kings with hidden identities, entire kingdoms themselves with hidden identities, Moxnes’ “deep family roles” involving fathers, uncles, sons, and lovers. There’s even a villain who is not entirely bad and whose intentions leave us pondering the nature of leadership and how to bring about social justice. This film is a treasure trove of archetypes that easily deserve 5 Arcs out of 5.

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The 15:17 to Paris •1/2

Starring: Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, Spencer Stone
Director: Clint Eastwood
Screenplay: Dorothy Blyskal, Anthony Sadler
Drama/History/Thriller, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 94 minutes
Release Date: February 9, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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

Greg, we just saw another movie about a train. This one’s a true story, however.


Well, at least we’ll always have Paris. Let’s recap:


We meet three young men from Sacramento, California, who are all obviously close friends. They are Spencer Stone (Spencer Stone), Anthony Sadler (Anthony Sadler), and Alek Skarlatos (Alek Skarlatos). We flashback to their middle-school years when they made regular trips to the principal’s office. Their parents are single mothers who are doing their best to raise these three boys who are energetic and show a strong interest in the military.


The boys grow up and at 25 years old, Spencer reflects on his life. He’s tried football, basketball, and pizza delivery – and failed at all them. He resolves to get into shape and apply for the Air Force Paratroopers. He gets in, but his lack of depth perception tanks his hopes. Ultimately, he is trained as a medic. To celebrate, he arranges for a European tour with his old friends. That leads to an encounter that will make them famous.


Greg, The 15:17 to Paris tells a great story, but it is not a great movie. In a rare misfire, director Clint Eastwood shows us how three young men evolve from schoolboy goof-ups to noble heroes. The problem with this film is that Eastwood also shows us much more. He shows us what ice cream our heroes enjoy, what kinds of selfies they take, and what cities they like to visit. There’s more than a lot of dispensable fluff, which is a shame because this story needed to be told. A running time of 50 minutes would have been about right in lieu of the 90 minutes we’re forced to endure.

The coolest aspect of this film, of course, is that our three real-world heroes portray themselves in the movie. They do a semi-respectable acting job and the decision to cast them in these roles delivers a great payoff when we’re treated to actual footage of them receiving medals of honor from the French president. The message of the movie is also important in emphasizing how all of us are potential heroes, and how it is imperative that we stand up and take action when action is required.


We could probably end the review here – because you have hit all the points I would have made. Truly half the film follows two of our heroes on a trip through Europe. It’s worse than a series of home movies. Every five minutes the pair would stop for a beer and muse out loud: “Should we go to Paris? It sounds so boring…” Literally 5 or 6 times they go through this dialog. I guess the screenwriter was attempting to create tension. But it was the worst dialog ever written.

And even master director Clint Eastwood couldn’t fix this story. The bits at the beginning with the heroes as kids are nice. But again the dialog is so on the nose. In one scene a dowdy school marm informs the mothers that their rambunctious boys need Ritalin. The women storm out saying “My God is stronger than your medicine!It’s all kinds of confusing. We never find out if the boys get medicated or if they actually have ADD. It’s just left hanging there like some Floridian chad.


You’re right, Greg, we should just get to our ratings while also commenting on the archetypes that come alive in this movie.

Rating the overall quality of this movie is difficult for me, as I love the story but dislike the manner in which it is told here. We’ve already described the general problem — there simply isn’t enough meat on this cinematic bone to warrant a full-feature film, and as such we’re subjected to enough padding (and inane dialogue) to fill the grand canyon. The only thing preventing me from giving a rating of 1 Reel out of 5 is that this story is pure and beautiful heroic non-fiction. Thus I’ll bump the rating up to 2 Reels out of 5.

The heroism here is fabulous. We’re witness to the transformative journey that enabled these men to perform their heroic act on the train. Alek Skarlatos is the main hero who never seemed to find his way in life as a boy nor as a young man. He transforms himself and hits his stride in the military, but his lack of depth perception seems to derail him. Rather than let this setback define him, he trains as an EMT and now has the heroic potential to deal with a dangerous, life-threatening situation. I give these heroes 5 Hero points out of 5.

Several archetypes jump out at me, Greg. The underdog archetype is prominent, as our three heroes are at first dismissed as hopeless goofballs who will never amount to anything. We also see the military warrior archetype. What makes our heroes’ heroism possible is the villainous terrorist, who is portrayed as pure evil here. Carl Jung raised the idea of a demon archetype, a powerful force in our collective unconscious as well as a powerful force on this French train. Overall these archetypes earn 4 archetypes Arc points out of 5.

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I agree with you on the quality of this movie. It’s a real disappointment. Unlike you, however, I have no problem rating it 1 Reel out of 5. There’s no way I can recommend anyone watch this movie for any reason other than its historical value. It’s just truly bad.

However, I compensate the low quality rating with a perfect hero score of 5 Heroes out of 5. This story emphasizes the importance of realizing that we all have the element of heroism in us. Here, we see Alek work exceptionally hard to become the person he wants to be. He fails over and over and never gives up. And when the moment calls for him to act in the service of others, he does not fail. He steps up and saves the lives of dozens of people. This is what we look for in heroes – and we all have it in us.

I know we have both struggled with our definition of “archetype.” Sometimes I feel like we are looking at tropes or even stereotypes. All three terms are valuable and subtly different. We do see the VILLAIN archetype played out by the terrorist on the train. Sadly, it is the stereotype that is presented in this movie. We get no backstory to this man. We only see his brown skin and dark features and the stereotype of the middle eastern or Muslim terrorist fills in the blanks. While it makes for economical storytelling, it is a dangerous stereotype as there are plenty who look like this villain who are good people. I give the HERO archetypes high marks. So, I’ll award 3 out of 5 Arcs for the archetypes.

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