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Blockers ••1/2

Starring: Leslie Mann, John Cena, Ramona Young
Director: Kay Cannon
Screenplay: Brian Kehoe, Jim Kehoe
Comedy, Rated: R
Running Time: 102 minutes
Release Date: April 6, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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Is this a movie about the NFL fullbacks – or problems with plumbing?.


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

There are definitely a few dozen jokes about male and female plumbing in this movie, Greg. Let’s recap.


We’re introduced to three parents who are sending their young daughters off to kindergarten. Single mom Lisa (Leslie Mann), burly Mitchell (John Cena), and geeky Hunter (Ike Barinholtz) become fast friends as their daughters also begin a life-long friendship.

Flash forward thirteen years and the girls have grown into young women on the verge of adulthood. They are planning their dates for prom and make a “sex pact.” They are going to lose their virginity on the same night. Hilarity ensues when the parents learn of this pact and are now on a mission to “block” their kids’ goal by going to prom and breaking up the group.


Greg, Blockers is a ‘screwball’ comedy – literally, as it shows both screwing and balls. The premise of the movie centers on parents who seem unable to let their nearly adult children grow up. We see parents behaving less maturely than their children, yet gradually we witness the adults reach some mature conclusions about letting their college-bound teenagers make their own decisions. The parents really are caricatures of hovering helicopter parents, so much so that it was at times painful watching their meddling antics.

Blockers is also a story about how high school seniors navigate their complex worlds. We see these young people having to overcome not only the stresses associated with coming-of-age but also the strains of dealing with smothering parents. This film wisely shows us how older teens do just fine on their own without adult interventions, and how more often than not they are able to make enlightened decisions about their own well-being and destiny.


Scott, I’m a little conflicted about the structure of the heroes in this movie. While the parents are the main characters, they are also the ones creating the obstacles for the girls. Usually, when a character opposes another character’s main goal, we consider them the antagonist – or villain. And in classic villain fashion, the parents believe they are in the right to obstruct the girls from fulfilling their pact.

In our book Reel Heroes & Villains we identify villains in the main role (protagonist) as ‘anti-heroes’. Films like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid present just such characters. The lead character is not necessarily evil, but they are in the wrong. I see our ‘blocking’ parents in just this fashion.

However, we also point out that villains who overcome their negative tendencies by the end of the film are no longer true ‘anti-heroes’, but are actually ‘redeemed villains’. I think Lisa, Mitchell, and Hunter fall into this category.


Greg, that’s a fascinating observation on your part regarding the parents playing both the hero role and the obstacle role for their children. I could turn the tables on you by arguing that it is the girls who are obstructing their parents’ goal of protecting the girls from an experience that the parents don’t think the girls are ready for. Perhaps a balanced approach to the story centers on recognizing that this is an ensemble film with the parents and girls both occupying a hero space and an oppositional space to each other.


Overall, I enjoyed Blockers. While there were some cringe-worthy moments – there were others that were just downright gross. For a moment I thought I was in a Farrelly Brothers film. We’re witness to a beer “butt-chug” where Mitchell has to imbibe a 40-ounce lauger rectally. And there’s a vomit scene where the three teen couples puke on each other in the back of a limo. If you’re at all squeamish, Blockers will not be for you.

And the ending wrapped up in a pretty stereotypical Hollywood fashion. Each of the parents has a heart-to-heart with their daughters that would make any parent weep – but we also know are pretty unrealistic. Mitchell interrupts his daughter’s “experience”, body slams her date, and then she tells him how much she loves him for preparing her for life. Similarly, Hunter’s daughter comes out to him and he promises to be more involved in her life after being absent for five years.

In both cases we get the “warm fuzzies” – but the reality is that these young women would probably have more choice words for their fathers – and rightfully harbor some resentment. But this is not a film about reality. It’s about mining the deepest fears of modern parents and exposing them for yuks. And, mission accomplished. It was fun if not believable.


Blockers is an amusing albeit lewd and crude look at parents and older teens both coming of age. It’s not unusual for storytelling to focus on kids acting more grown-up than the grown-ups, and here we see it in full measure. The abundance of gross-out scenes (such as an explosion of assbeer fluid) does undermine any kind of serious message. However, none of the sophomoric humor deterred me from deriving some mild enjoyment from the film. I award Blockers 3 Reels out of 5.

There is well-defined hero’s journey here featuring the girls embarking on a prom night adventure and the parents engaging in a ridiculous effort to thwart the girls’ adventure. There are a few elements of the classic hero’s journey present, such as various helpers and roadblocks, and there’s also no doubt all six of our main characters undergo a significant mental and emotional transformation. For these reasons I can award our heroes 3 Hero points out of 5.

Numerous archetypes are apparent in this film. We have parents who won’t let their children grow up, teenagers who are intent on losing their virginity, a seeming outcast (Kayla) who is embraced by society, a pothead (Connor), and young people who come of age. These archetypes merit a score of 3 Arse-Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


I don’t have much to add to your assessments, Scott. I found Blockers and enjoyable and farcical look at a major parental turning point: the letting go of our children as they become adults. I give this film 2 out of 5 Reels.

The heroes are the parents and they are also the antagonists. But their hearts are in the right place and in the end they realize the folly of their ways. I give these REDEEMED VILLAINS 3 out of 5 Heroes.

And there are plenty of stereotypes as well as archetypes. DUMB PARENTS, VIRGINS, LESBIANS, and SMART KIDS. I give them 2 out of 5 Arcs.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Ready Player One ••• 1/2

Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn
Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenplay: Zak Penn, Ernest Cline
Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 140 minutes
Release Date: March 29, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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

Greg, I’m READY to be the ONE who reviews this next movie with you.


It appears the ‘80s are cool again. Let’s recap.


It’s the year 2045 and much of the world lives in poverty and squalor. As an escape from this grim reality, everyone spends most of their time in OASIS, a virtual world in which players assume various virtual identities. The creator of OASIS, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), has recently died and has left the ultimate game for users to play. Whoever finds the Easter egg that he has hidden in OASIS wins the game and will inherit ownership of OASIS. Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), an 18-year-old living in Ohio, is intent on winning the game, but he is up against a vast army of IOI “sixers” led by the evil Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn).


In the OASIS, Wade is known as “Parzival” and he befriends “Artimis” (Olivia Cooke) who in real life is “Samantha.” Together, with his best friend “Aech” (Lena Waithe) and other friends “Sho” (Philip Zhao) and “Daito” (Win Morisaki) they form a team intent on discovering the secrets of the OASIS and keeping it from the hands of evil Sorrento.


Greg, Ready Player One is both an adventure story and a “cause” film with a not-so-subtle biting critique of current social issues. First, there is the message about the dangers of online addiction and over-dependency on computer gaming. Second, there is the dystopian future theme of the younger generation showing greater wisdom than their corrupt elders, wrapped also in a critique of the older generation’s single-minded craving for wealth, greed, and power.

There are many nice touches here with regard to good storytelling. The whole idea of living beneath the veil of avatars underscores the heroic theme of secret identities that we see in so many classic stories ranging from Superman to the fable of the Ugly Duckling. The secret identity theme also touches on the dreams we have to become something bigger and better than ourselves. Ready Player One is all about journeying away from fantasy into a deeper, truer reality, which in storytelling is always a journey toward knowledge of one’s deeper, truer self.


Scott, I was a bit disappointed in RPO. As is true of many popular films of the day, Stephen Spielberg has opted to create a visual spectacle rather than tell a compelling story. None of the characters get a very strong treatment because there are so many of them and because we’re constantly assaulted by computer graphics and gaming imagery. When you remove all the smoke and mirrors, you’re left with a very simple story and a rather trite message – “the real world is better than the virtual world.”

But the movie doesn’t deliver on that message. The real world Wade belongs to is bleak. And his becoming the master of the OASIS does nothing to change that. Sure, he closes the OASIS two days a week – but that doesn’t change the fact that people are suffering. It only means that they have to suffer in the real world 28% of the week.

If this movie is in fact a cautionary tale, then we should see the real world ramifications of living in the virtual word. We should see the causes of people preferring the virtual world. None of this is present in RPO – it is just another roller coaster ride. So buckle up.


We have another strong female hero in this film, Samantha, who cautions Wade about her avatar misrepresenting her so-called true self, which features a facial birthmark. Wade loves her for her inner qualities, an act of pure love and acceptance that redeems and transforms her. We know that she becomes transformed when she revises her avatar to include the same birthmark that she once despised. This film wisely doesn’t take the extreme step of advocating the abandonment of technology; rather, it encourages a “balanced” approach with online fun being part of life but certainly not all of life.

You’re right, Greg, that true heroes would transform the bleak “real” world in addition to winning the game of OASIS in the virtual world. Perhaps that’s the ideal plot of a follow-up movie.


I’d be more impressed if Sam were not beautiful in a classic sense. It’s easy to love someone’s soul when she looks like Olivia Cook. How might this story have turned if she looked like Steve Buscemi?

Ready Player One is a great visual romp through 1980s video game culture. As a child of the 80s I found it very entertaining and nostalgic. The computer imagery was amazing, well beyond anything we’ve seen up to now. The recreation of the hotel from The Shining was absolutely incredible and well worth the price of admission. The story was a little formulaic and lacked any sophistication. I give RPO 3 out of 5 Reels.

The heroes here are pretty simple. Wade is the classic boy warrior and Sam the female sidekick. We don’t really admire Wade for anything he’s done except be clever in the ways of finding clues. He seems to have a sense of morality, but we don’t see much that endears us to him (where’s his “save the cat” moment?). I give Wade 3 out of 5 Heroes.

There are plenty of archetypal characters. Halliday is the WIZARD, there’s a MENTOR in the Curator. Sorento represents the EVIL OLIGARCHY. We also have the QUEST TEAM that Wade leads and they support him in finding the final Easter Egg. Overall, I give them 3 out of 5 Arcs.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


Ready Player One represents another triumph of sorts for director Steven Speilberg, as it is an ambitious film with plenty of heart, solid sentimental storytelling, and terrific action sequences. The film falls short of achieving epic status because no truly new ground is broken here in terms of originality and impact. We do have plenty of endearing characters and a classic good versus evil set-up which won my heart. I give this film 4 Reels out of 5.

The hero’s journey for Wade and his friends is everything you’d want to see in classic storytelling. Every element of Joseph Campbell’s hero monomyth is present, from trials to allies to villainy and mentoring. This film is a rock solid hero adventure tale, with Wade displaying most of the “great eight” traits of heroes – intelligence, strength, inspiration, heart, selflessness, and resilience. I award Wade and company 4 Hero points out of 5.

Not surprisingly, the archetypes in this film are bold and moving. There is the underdog, Wade, doing battle with a far superior enemy force; there is the eccentric scientist in Halliday; there are wise children, a wise old man (Halliday’s partner); wizard-like characters in the virtual world; a curator serving as a guide, and of course a great love interest in Sam. Overall these archetypal element merit a score of 4 Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes: