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Life of the Party •

Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Gillian Jacobs, Debby Ryan
Director: Ben Falcone
Screenplay: Ben Falcone, Melissa McCarthy
Comedy, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 105 minutes
Release Date: May 11, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!


Scott, partying is such sweet sorrow.


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

Let’s inject some life into that party, shall we? Time to recap.


We’re introduced to Deanna Miles (Melissa McCarthy) who is seeing her daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) off to her senior year in college. She reminisces that she dropped out of her last year of college to marry her husband Dan (Matt Walsh) but has no regrets. No sooner is she in the car and on the way home when Dan drops the bombshell that he wants a divorce.


Deanna makes the momentous decision to finish her archeology degree at the same college as Maddie. Lo and behold, Deanna also happens to join Maddie’s sorority, too. At first, the transition is awkward as the generation gap between Deanna and everyone else becomes painfully apparent. But soon Deanna begins to fit right in, even with conflicts with other students looming large.


Scott, this movie is a hot mess wrapped in a flustercluck immersed in a quagmire. It is so rare to find a film with such star power that could be so impossibly bad. But, let me tell you how I really feel. As an example, Maddie is at first repulsed by the idea of having her mother in the same school as her, and then immediately supportive. Then horribly embarrassed and gives her mom a makeover. This movie runs hot and cold with characters reacting as needed to satisfy the gag for whatever scene is currently on-screen. This film has no goal, no direction, and no soul. What an incredible waste of time.

Deanna has a divorce settlement and is apparently left with no money. But her husband is funding her education. And at some point she pisses off his girlfriend so he cuts Deanna off which makes for the movie’s crisis moment where Deanna and her new sorority sisters have to throw a fundraiser. But, in what world would Deanna really be left with nothing? Logically she would have received some sort of settlement and alimony. But that would make it difficult for Deanna to be put into peril – so the writers simply make her poor.

And she has this unbelievable relationship with a college frat boy where he becomes so in love with Deanna that she can’t get rid of him. And, wait for it… he’s the son of the woman who stole Dan away from her. It’s all completely unlikely and orchestrated for yuks. Everything in this movie is played out for yuks – but virtually none of it is funny.


Greg, you’ve nailed it. Like many gifted comedians, Melissa McCarthy is having trouble finding movie roles that best suit her talents. I’ve always thought that talented funny people such as McCarthy, Jim Carrey, and Amy Schumer are better off sinking their teeth into roles with some dramatic heft in them so as to counter and even accentuate their comedic contributions. That’s why The Truman Show worked so well for Carrey and why Life of the Party works not so well for McCarthy.

The film is a giant goof-fest that isn’t as amusing as it thinks it is. McCarthy makes the most of the material in the same way that the musicians on the Titanic made the most of their situation. It’s a commendable performance but there’s no avoiding the final disastrous outcome. The most unbearable scenes in the movie involved Deanna’s parents, especially her father, whose histrionic outbursts are unfunny and cringeworthy. This film couldn’t end soon enough for me.


Life of the Party is a complete waste of time. McCarthy has no one to blame but herself for this mess as she is co-writer and producer of the film. I honestly believe the vast majority of the dialog was improvised because I cannot imagine anyone purposely writing the tripe that rolled out of characters mouths. Live of the Party just barely gets 1 out of 5 Reels from me.

As a hero Deanna is all over the map. She doesn’t really have a missing inner quality that needs resolving, so she has no arc. And she doesn’t really empower the young women around her with her example – so she can’t even measure up as a catalyst for change in the people around her. I give her just 1 Hero out of 5.

The archetypes here are the OLD STUDENT, FRAT BOY, SORORITY SISTER, BETRAYED WIFE, and MEAN GIRLS. These tropes were so blatant and stereotypical that absolutely no time was spent developing these characters. We’re simply left to recall other, superior movies, which employed them so that McCarthy could lazily not describe them. I give these archetypes 1 out of 5 Arcs.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


Life of the Party would be more aptly named Death of the Party, a sad instance of celluloid on life-support and in need of someone pulling the plug. There are a few humorous moments sprinkled throughout the film but not nearly enough of them to salvage this “hot mess”, as you put it, Greg. McCarthy’s talents are largely wasted and I’m bitter about never getting these two hours of my life back. I give this movie a shameful 1 Reel out of 5.

There is a clear hero’s journey in this film featuring Deanna’s adventurous return to college and her challenges in forming relationships and in giving classroom presentations. What’s unclear is how she is transformed by her experience. One might say that she gained self-confidence and restored her true sense of self as a separate entity from her husband. Her going to back to school is just for gags, really. I give Deanna’s heroism a score of 2 Hero points out of 5.

The archetypes I see in this film include the classic midlife crisis, the embarrassing older parent, the professor as mentor, the woman cougar, the dark misfit roommate, and the college frat party. None of these archetypes strike me as particularly deep or interesting, and so the best rating I can muster is a score of 2 Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Kidnap ••

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

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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


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

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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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

Movie: Heroes: Transformation:


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

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

Movie: Heroes: Transformation:

Transformers: The Last Knight •1/2

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Hopkins, Josh Duhamel
Director: Michael Bay
Screenplay: Art Marcum, Matt Holloway
Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 149 minutes
Release Date: June 21, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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

Greg, it seems like these Transformers never change.


It turns out they really are not more than meets the eye. Let’s recap:


In the 5th century, Merlin has teamed up with a dozen transformers in England to defeat the Saxons. In the present day, most of earth has outlawed transformers but they appear to be everywhere and they keep arriving. Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) has devoted his life to protecting the transformers, and he befriends a 14-year-old girl named Izabella (Isabela Moner). Meanwhile, on the planet Cybertron, Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) has been captured by the evil Quintessa (Gemma Chan).


Over in England, Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins) has summoned Cade because he’s been chosen by an ancient Transformer to the the last knight. Cade meets the beautiful and educated Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock). She knows the location of Merlin’s staff that can repel Cybertron. Now it’s a race against time as Cade and Vivian try to escape the Army, the TRF, ancient Transformers, and the Decepticons to defeat Quintessa and evil Optimus Prime and save Earth.


Greg, these Transformers movies are exhausting. No wonder this movie clocks in at two and a half hours – its tries to pack in every character and every plot device from every action movie ever made. We have a confusing array of heroes. First, there is a young girl in the ruins. Then there is Mark Wahlberg’s character Cade Yeager. Then Anthony Hopkins shows up. Then a beautiful professor of history joins in. There are also many villains: A floating metal woman named Quintessa, the TRF police hunting the transformers, plus a criminal gang of robot freaks led by Megatron.

It’s as if this movie wants to be an amalgam of Men in Black, National Treasure, and even Star Wars (as there are two robots resembling R2D2 and C3PO). This film has the same basic problem that plagues previous installments of Transformers, namely, it doesn’t know what it wants to be or who in the audience it should appeal to. The movie is too juvenile to appeal to adults and too crude to be appropriate for kids. Maybe that’s why it throws in everything plus the kitchen sink. If you include enough of everything, maybe something will stick to someone.


I could not agree more. What I saw was drones that looked like Tie-Fighters and robot destructors that looked like At-At’s. And plot twists that came out of The DiVinci Code. As if that weren’t enough, this was more like two separate movies. The first half resembles the plot of Logan with Izabella the Hispanic girl chasing our hero. She’s tough and resilient – just like Laura from the aforementioned movie. Then the movie abandons this storyline in favor of a sort of a DaVinci Code plot with the vivacious Vivian where they must decode the mysteries of historical artifacts. It is as if the writers could not agree on a plot so they combined two. It was a colossal mess.


I don’t think this film is a total disaster, as it does try to hit some key elements of the hero’s journey and heroism in general. Optimus Prime redeems himself and transforms back into his old benevolent self when an old friend expresses a willingness to die for him. This scene actually moved me. But I also know that the filmmakers threw in a few ingredients of heroism as an afterthought, just to make sure they covered a few key bases in the most perfunctory way.

For example, at the film’s end there is a brief speech about how our heroes just want to find home and how so much of our inner discoveries remain mysteries. Cade Yeager even has a secret identity as a knight, which is a classic theme in hero mythology. That’s all well and good but this film is guilty of superficially exploring these heroic themes. Sadly, Transformers movies are first and foremost hyper-masculine films consisting mostly of violence, cleavage, and “dickhead” comments.


Yeah. There are a lot of tossed-in elements. It’s like some sort of movie salad. Borrowed elements from other movies. Borrowed archetypes. Borrowed characters. The most heroic character (and by far the most interesting) was Izabella. She’s wise beyond her years, tough, and capable. Cade tries to treat her like a naive child and she has none of it.

Likewise, Vivian is a lot smarter than Cade and when the chips are down, it is she who can wield Merlin’s staff and save the day. Which is very confusing because it makes us wonder what Cade is there for. The artifact that chose him to be “the one” true knight. The artifact turns into Excalibur and then in a flash disappears. The most interesting characters in this film are the two women and there isn’t a single scene with the two of them together.


I think your “movie salad” description really says it all, Greg. Transformers: The Last Knight is an oversized casserole that you can’t possibly finish, nor would you want to. There’s just too much sound and fury with too little substance. There’s quite possibly a good movie lurking somewhere in this sloppy stew, but it’s hopelessly obscured by a cacophony of sights and sounds, most of them unnecessary. I’m generously awarding this film 2 Reels out of 5.

We do have several worthy heroes. Izabella is a good character who deserves more character development. She’s an example of heroic potential wasted. Cade Yeager is also an admirable hero who grows into his knightly role, but he’s also a flimsy character due to this film’s emphasis on action, CGI effects, flash, and noise. Burton and Wembley also have potential but are lost in the blaring cacophony. Heroic themes of home and inner discovery are buried as well. Thus all I can muster is a hero rating of 2 out of 5.

You’d think a Transformers movie would be bursting with interesting transformations, but alas, the vast majority of transformations here are of the physical variety. Machines become monsters and monsters become vehicles, etc. Optimus Prime does undergo a moving transformation from hero to villain and then back to hero again. But it’s all done on an unsatisfying surface level. As a result, I can only must a rating of 2 transformation Deltas out of 5.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:


Scott, you are far too generous to this film. Transformers: The Last Knight is a mashup of a dozen other films. There’s nothing original here. And it was bloated to over 2 hours and 30 minutes. Yet in all this mess there was a barely perceptible plot. The goal was to save the Earth – but that isn’t established well into the second act. It took a long time to know what this film was about. I can only give it 1 Reel out of 5.

There were a bunch of heroes in this film that we haven’t really talked about. There were many Autobot Transformers to play sidekicks. And the Decepticons were there for a minute. There’s a big scene where Megatron picks his Suicide Squad – and then they never appear in the film. These heroes are weak and uninteresting. Aside from the two women, I don’t have any use for them. I give this film 1 out of 5 Heroes.

And despite the many transformations from robot to automobile back to robot – there really isn’t much growth or transformation for these characters. I give them all just 1 Delta out of 5.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:

The Circle 1/2

Starring: Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega
Director: James Ponsoldt
Screenplay: James Ponsoldt, Dave Eggers
Drama/Sci-Fi/Thriller, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 110 minutes
Release Date: April 27, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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Scott, it’s time to circle the wagons and review The Circle.


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

I’m coming around to it, Greg. Thanks for keeping me in the loop. Let’s recap.


We’re introduced to young Mae (Emma Watson). She works in a dull cubicle job collecting money for the water department. When one day, her best friend calls and says she got an interview with “The Circle” – an Apple/Google/Facebook-like company that specializes in social media software. The interview is a bit bizarre, but she gets in and can’t wait to get started.


Mae begins working at the Circle and immediately realizes that she is expected to make the job her entire life — her friends, activities, and parties are all arranged by the Circle. At one of these parties she meets Ty Leffit (John Boyega), one of the mythical founders of the Circle who has now gone incognito. Mae realizes that Ty doesn’t revere the Circle as everyone else seems to. Soon Mae is taken under the wing of Circle co-founder Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), who uses Mae to demonstrate the formidable power of social media.


Scott, The Circle is a movie that cannot find its center. On the one hand it wants to show us the scary side of social media and technology. On the other hand, it seems to solve all problems by adding technology to our lives.

The company introduces a mini-cam that is the size of an eyeball and can be glued to any standing structure. The idea is that it can see everything all the time. We’re never shown the downside of this but we’re led to believe there is one.

Then Mae goes “transparent” – broadcasting her every move to the world. But it gets scary when she accidentally broadcasts her parents having sex.

Then she outs a fugitive using the ubiquity of cellphone cameras. But then her best friend is killed when the same social media tool is used to chase him down. We can never tell what this film is trying to say – is technology good or bad?


I think it’s trying to say that it’s both. It’s good when used wisely and bad when used unwisely. Kind of like money, sex, marriage, and a million other things that can be good or bad.

The Circle is a well-intentioned movie about the dangers of technology in compromising our privacy. Alas, good intentions do not necessarily translate into good movies. There are major problems with this film that make me surprised that actors as seasoned as Tom Hanks and Emma Watson would agree to be a part of it.

First, this theme of technology invading privacy is hardly new. This topic has been bandied about for many years. Second, the way the storyline unfolds is painfully predictable. We know from the start that the Circle is evil, and so the ending of the film is entirely anticlimactic. Third, Emma Watson fails to portray a character who convincingly evolves from naivety to revelation. She just sort of changes one day without us seeing it happen. That’s simply bad filmmaking.


I cannot measure just how disappointed I was in this film. If you want to see both sides of an issue look at the filmcraft of Eye in the Sky. Here, three points of view about the collateral death of a young girl during a bombing the middle east are presented. It leaves the conclusions to the audience, but it makes clear that there are no good solutions.

But The Circle simply moves from one technical issue to the next with no resolution to speak of. And the writer seemed to have no comprehension of how technology works. We were dragged into an abandoned subway where apparently hard drives would be spun up with information on each of us. In fact, data is distributed across the globe to promote redundancy.

On top of that are glaring contradictions in philosophy. In one scene, Mae is devastated by the loss of her friend Mercer who died at the hands of a social media chase she instigated. She apparently has shunned technology. And so she reaches out to her friend Annie (Karen Gillan) – using her cell phone. She’s in a video chat with her friend and says: “I like this. This personal connection. This is the way people should communicate.”

This was a serious face-palm moment for me. Apparently, using the internet to have a personal conversation is alright. But using the same technology to talk to a hundred people is not. Apparently talking by way of videophone is better than meeting in person. The movie is rife with these contradictions. It was maddening.


The hero’s journey is boring and predictable. Mae is excited to join the Circle and we know from the get-go that she will eventually come around to seeing the Circle as the evil entity that it plainly is. There’s not a single surprise in this movie. The only surprise is that the film was made and that good actors found themselves trapped in the Circle.

So while Mae does undergo a transformation, we aren’t impressed because we know it’s going to happen about 10 minutes into the film. And even though Mae transforms, it’s not clear in her acting that it’s happened. You don’t see it in her eyes or in her gait or anywhere — except in the speech she gives to trap Bailey at the end. This movie is a true yawner.


I don’t have your talent for clairvoyance, apparently, Scott. I can’t see what isn’t there. There is no hero’s journey in this film. We never get to see what the leaders of The Circle want. We never see Mae overcome an obstacle because every obstacle is replaced with something beneficial: When Mercer dies, The Circle invents self-driving cars to eliminate car accidents. When The Circle realizes that all voting age people are members, they create democratic voting online. Is this good or bad? We can’t tell because the ramifications of these acts are never shown.

In the final act, when Mae exposes all of The Circle’s emails, Tom Hanks turns to his henchman and says “we’re fucked.” But we don’t know why they’re fucked – because we never saw a single email they sent. No conflict means no transformation and no story.

The Circle is the most nonsensical movie you will see this year. It has no opinions about technology. Most of the technological issues it presents have been dealt with in the recent past – and in some cases decades ago. Some very fine performances from Tom Hanks and Emma Watson are wasted. I recently called out The Promise as a cause film which did not serve its cause. The Circle is a cause film without a cause. If you avoid one movie this year, make it The Circle. I give it zero out of 5 Reels.

Mae is a likable and naive young woman with noble intentions. She loves her parents and wants to help them. She likes her friend Mercer, even if she can’t return his love. But she never encounters any real obstacles and so can never grow. As a hero, she gets a mere 1 Hero out of 5.

There are no transformations in this story. Except that I was transformed from alert and watchful to bored and sleepy. I give The Circle zero Deltas out of 5.

Movie: 0  Transformations: 0  Heroes:


The Circle certainly was a gigantic disappointment. This movie should have gone straight to DVD or blu-ray. The plot is painfully predictable and the issues about technology are not explored in any depth or in any way that holds our interest. Only true diehard fans of Tom Hanks or Emma Watson may want to give this film a look. No one else should dare go near. I give this movie 1 Reel out of 5.

Mae’s hero journey is mapped out for us from the very start, and so it’s a major disappointment not seeing a single surprise from start to finish. We’ve already talked about the lack of any meaningful transformations, so let’s get right to the ratings: 1 Hero point out of 5, and 1 transformation Delta out of 5, too.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:

Independence Day: Resurgence ••

Independence-Day-2-posterStarring: Liam Hemsworth,  Jeff Goldblum,  Bill Pullman
Director: Roland Emmerich
Screenplay: Nicolas Wright,  James A. Woods
Science Fiction/Action/Adventure, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 120 minutes
Release Date: June 24, 2016

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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Just in time for the Fourth of July, it’s the resurgence of a bad film from 20 years ago.


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

Actually, I semi-enjoyed the original film with Will Smith. Did this new one measure up?  Let’s see.


It’s 20 years after the aliens invaded the Earth and we repulsed their attacks. The captured aliens, who were previously dormant, have become strangely animated. It turns out they aren’t angry – they’re celebrating because the mothership is returning. Now it’s up to the human race to re-prepare for the oncoming invasion.


Fortunately, humanity has learned a lot from the alien technology left behind from the prior invasion. Still, they are vastly outnumbered and outgunned by a mothership that is the size of a continent. The alien ship begins emitting a powerful laser beam into the earth with the goal of harvesting our planet’s molten core.


Scott, I was not a fan of the original Independence Day and Resurgence is a pale imitation of a lousy original. All the original characters are back, except for Will Smith’s character who died in the 20 years between events. He’s replaced by his son Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher) and two friends Jake Morrison and Ritter (Liam Hemsworth and James A. Woods). There’s some sort of animosity between Jake and Dylan that is barely explained.

And Dr Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner) is back – but I thought he died in the original. He (and President Whitmore – Bill Pullman) have some sort of psychic connection to the aliens. xxx also has a buddy who appears to be closer to a lover. The script is written so that you can believe they’re gay if you want to, or they’re just Bert and Ernie types of friends. I’m not a fan of ambiguity. If you want to have gay characters in your story, I’m OK with that. Just put it out there.

Just as it was 20 years ago, there are too many stars in this film. Nobody gets much screen time and you never feel close to any character. The result is that you never get invested in anyone and so you cannot get invested in the story. ID:R is a lackluster affair, to be nice.


Yep, this summer of 2016 is turning into a major suck-fest. It’s still July and there’s still time for the movie industry to redeem itself. But boy, are we thirsty for a decent movie or what? You’re absolutely right about too many stars spoiling the broth here. We just reviewed Now You See Me 2 and it had the same problem of many stars but little shine.

The entire story is by-the-numbers and routine. We have aliens attacking and we have humans fighting them. It looks like all is lost until a fallen, has-been hero gets his sh**t together and comes to the rescue. The aliens have an evil queen, and of course the evil queen is easily tricked into making herself vulnerable to attack. I’m struck by the vast number of alien movies that portray aliens as insects with a hive mentality and ant-like colonies and hierarchies. Moviemakers must figure that these types of animalistic, pure evil villains are easy to root against.


Independence Day: Resurgence is simple popcorn fare. There’s not a lot of depth here. It’s a run-of-the-mill attack of the aliens story with no surprises and no heart. While the CGI was good, I am inured now to all CGI fests. I am far past the point where special effects affect me. I expect high-quality special effects. I expect that filmmakers can make anything happen on screen. So when “anything” *does* happen, I’m not the least bit impressed. I feel that they’ve done was was expected. I give ID:R just 2 out of 5 Reels.

The heroes in this story are a watered-down version of what we saw in the original. It apparently takes three people to replace Will Smith. Bill Pullman’s President is a mere shadow of his former self. Jeff Goldblum didn’t even try to pull off his usual geeky-science-guy act. He very much phoned it in. The female President played by Sela Ward was easy on the eyes, but didn’t command much of anything. I could go on quite a bit because there were so many characters and each were lackluster in every way. The hero’s journey here is supplanted by CGI and a rehashed plot. I give the heroes in this movie just 1 out of 5 Heroes.

It’s hard to say if there were any mentors in ID:R. Judd Hersch is back as the kindly grandfather. He gives kindly words of wisdom to some children. I guess that’s ‘kindly’ mentoring. However, I did notice a new mentor type – the Martyred Mentor. Will Smith appears as the hero who has died. He is remembered with great reverence and is held up as an example for the young heroes to live up to. Somehow, that character is greater in death than he was in life. This is the only thing that allows me to award 1 Mentor out of 5.

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Greg, I think you’ve said it all, and the less said the better. Independence Day: Resurgence is lightweight fare even by mindless summer-movie standards. I came into the theater with fairly low expectations and they were met in every possible way. There’s nothing original to see here, but maybe people who enjoy aliens’ butts being kicked will get a charge out of this flick. 2 Reels out of 5 seems generous but that’s what I’ll give it.

As you mention, the heroes here are about as unmemorable as heroes can get. I didn’t see much of a hero’s journey or much character transformation going on. A rating of 1 Hero out of 5 seems generous once again. And as far as mentors go, the late great Will Smith character is the legend who inspires and Judd Hersch’s wrinkles make him wise. So let’s give these mentors a big 2 out of 5 as well.

Movie: reel-2 Mentor: mentor2 Hero: h-logo-1

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice ••

Batman_v_Superman_posterStarring: Ben AffleckHenry CavillAmy Adams
Director: Zack Snyder
Screenplay: Chris TerrioDavid S. Goyer
Action/Adventure/Fantasy, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 151 minutes
Release Date: March 25, 2016

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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It’s the battle of the century. Batman v Superman – are you team Clark or Bruce?


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

I’m rather partial to Alfred and Lois, actually. Let’s recap.


During the battle between Superman and General Zod (see Man of Steel), Bruce Wayne was in Metropolis. His employees were in the buildings that were devastated by the damage incurred by super beings fighting in the skies above. Bruce (aka Batman) is deeply disturbed by the danger that Superman has brought to the planet. He feels Superman is more of a liability than an asset. He makes it his goal to destroy Superman.


Meanwhile, Superman is also becoming unhappy with Batman, whom Clark Kent sees as more of a villain than a hero. Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) steps in to take advantage of the rift between the two superheroes. Luthor retrieves a weapon containing Kryptonite from the bottom of the Indian Ocean. While attending Luthor’s party Bruce Wayne meets Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), who manages to steal information from Wayne that Wayne stole from Luthor. Soon it becomes clear that Batman and Superman must have a showdown, and that such a fight can only work to Luthor’s advantage.


BvS Is a totally mixed bag of nuts. The plot meanders from Superman’s love interest, to Batman’s angst, to Superman’s nightmares, then Batman’s nightmares, to Lex Luthor’s manic obsession with killing both Superman and Batman (for reasons never made clear). And Wonder Woman thrown into the mix just because. We’re witness to Superman’s keen instincts to Lois being in danger and Lois appearing in places just as Superman needs her. There is no logic or internal consistency to this story, just scene after scene of special effects knit together by bits of dialog that make no sense.


Greg, I had problems with the entire premise of the movie, namely, that Batman and Superman could be duped into disliking each other. We recently reviewed the movie Allegient in which I noted the discontinuity of a genius hero such as Tris being easily fooled by the villain. In BvS, we have not one but two superior beings who show a silly misjudgment of each other. It’s as if some higher-up in the movie industry was inspired by King Kong vs. Godzilla and thought two legendary heroes fighting it out would be brilliant. It isn’t.

We’ve now reviewed three movies in a row in which there is no hero transformation. This pattern is unfortunate, but perhaps it is no coincidence that these are March releases and not Oscar season releases. The other two recent non-transformative movies were Allegiant and London Has Fallen. One could argue that Batman and Superman were transformed in their opinions of each other, with each of them realizing at the movie’s conclusion that the other wasn’t such a bad guy after all. For me, that hardly qualifies as a transformation. It’s more a statement of the obvious, and we didn’t need two and a half hours to figure out that both superheroes are super-heroic and really deserved a better movie than this.


You’re right, Scott. There is no logic to this movie. Apparently Batman becomes best buddies with Superman when the Man of Steel begs the Caped Crusader to save “Martha.” What a coincidence that both men have “Martha” for a mother’s name. It’s a ridiculous plot point and is only one of many in the film. As you point out, neither hero is transformed. And this is the case with many episodic heroes. We don’t look for a change in their character because that means they will be different in the next incarnation and we need Batman to be angst-ridden and we need Superman to feel alienated.

As for mentors, there really are none here. Alfred acts more as an engineer, building suits and toys to Bruce’s specifications. And Lois Lane is the constant damsel in distress. Clark’s mother offers some advice and a ghost/dream/imaginary visit from Clark’s father also offers some guidance. But otherwise, it’s a mentorless journey. Pretty dull stuff, really.


Yes, we’re treated to a lot of cool CGI effects and some terrific fight scenes. You can tell that the movie knows it is lacking substance when it becomes what we call a cluster-truck. Only substitute the word truck for a word that rhymes with it. When the big green monster makes an appearance at the film’s end, I was not only looking at my watch, I was actively rooting for time to speed ahead faster than a speeding bullet. We needed this movie to end about 30 minutes before it actually did.

And you’re correct about the vapidness of the hero’s journey, and about the mentors to our heroes being largely absent. I do need to mention one positive to this movie, and that is the performance of Jesse Eisenberg in the role of Lex Luthor. I remember admiring the potential for evil in Eisenberg in his portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network. Now we see Eisenberg’s unsurpassed ability to play a quirky, humorous evil genius who is more than a match for not one but two legendary superheroes. It’s fun to watch.


I won’t drag this review out any further. There’s virtually nothing good in this film. I thought Lex Luthor lacked any sense or motivation. There’s an attempt to foreshadow other Justice League characters besides Wonder Woman. I think that the DC Comics execs have seen the success of the Marvel Studios movies and felt the need to catch up – so they dumped everything into one movie and it is just superhero stew. It needs salt. I give Batman v Superman just 2 Reels out of 5.

We’ve already discussed the deficiencies with the heroes here. We have a certain common thread in that the heroes are orphans but one got over his loss and the other didn’t. There’s no transformation and a very strange buddy friendship in the end. I can’t muster more than 2 Heroes out of 5.

And there were no mentors. None. So I award 0 Mentors.

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Batman v Superman is based on the gimmicky idea that two super-smart heroes would make the super-dumb mistake of believing the other to be a villain. It’s a faulty premise, and the mistake is compounded by the movie’s poor execution that relies on weird things going on like the appearance of Wonder Woman and a big green monster. Also, any movie that kills superman twice, and is twice wrong (of course) is lacking in creativity and stretching the bounds of credibility. I can only award this film 2 Reels out of 5.

We’ve both pounded home the point that there is no hero’s journey, no hero’s transformation, and no point in watching, unless of course we like big green monsters. You’re right that this movie follows the pattern of a buddy hero story. We have two men who dislike each other but are forever bonded together because their mothers happen to share the same name. Good grief. I can only award a rating of 1 Hero out of 5.

I suspect that Alfred was a mentor to Bruce Wayne, although you are correct that his mentorship was limited at best. One could say that these two superheroes are guided by super-codes of super-conduct. So while there may be a dearth of actual living heroes, there are implicit codes by which they live their heroic lives. Still, there’s not much mentorship going on here, so I can only muster a rating of 1 Mentor out of 5.

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Hail, Caesar! •1/2

Hail,_Caesar!_Teaser_posterStarring: Josh Brolin,  George Clooney,  Alden Ehrenreich
Director: Ethan Coen,  Joel Coen
Screenplay: Ethan Coen,  Joel Coen
Comedy/Mystery, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 106 minutes
Release Date: February 5, 2016

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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All hail the conquering movie review. It’s time to review Hail, Caesar.


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

Hail, Caesar is a hell of a Caesar. Let’s recap.


We’re introduced to Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) who is a big-time movie producer at fictional Capital Pictures in 1951. He’s a busy guy with several pictures in the works. His first stop is a back-alley photographer’s studio where his pin-up star Gloria DeLamour (Natasha Bassett) is being photographed in compromising positions. Before the cops arrive, he feeds Gloria a cover story that explains why she’s there. This is just the beginning of Eddie’s day and it isn’t even light out yet.


The studio is currently filming an elaborate production called Hail, Caesar, starring the famous Baird Whitlock (George Clooney). Two extras in the film kidnap Whitlock and take him to a group of communists who want to take down Capital Pictures. Meanwhile, western star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) is being groomed as a more traditional dramatic actor by famous director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes), who realizes it’s a lost cause.


Scott, Hail, Caesar is a veiled look at 1950’s movie making. The titular film within a film Hail, Caesar closely resembles Ben Hur making Clooney a faux Charleton Heston. There’s a subplot where DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) is an unmarried pregnant swimming star actress – an allusion to Esther Williams. The western kid, Hobie Doyle, is Roy Rogers and Channing Tatum tap dances a gay frolic in a nod to Gene Kelly.

This all would have been a fun romp if only the whole thing made sense. For the most part, this is a movie about Mannix running from problem to problem with what should be witty situations. But there is never a punch line. Tatum’s character is rowed out to sea by the Communist writers and boards a Soviet submarine. It has no bearing on the plot and is supposed to be some sort of joke about the blacklisting of artists in the 1950’s and 60’s. I found the whole thing both bizarre and confusing.


I agree, Greg. The Coen brothers badly miscalculated here. I’m trying to figure out their rationale for producing this movie. Did they want to show us how bad the acting was back in the 1950s? Did they want to remind us of that era’s values regarding women, religion, and communism? Did they want to show us that movies once featured tap-dancing sailors, singing cowboys, and huge synchronized swimming ensembles?

There’s very little of value in this movie. It wasn’t entertaining to watch George Clooney pretend to be a bad actor. There’s a reason why today’s movies aren’t about tap-dancing sailors or swimming starlets — these scenes are no longer interesting to modern audiences. Most problematic is the fact that there is no hero story to be found in Hail, Caesar. Baird Whitlock starts out a fool and remains one. Eddie Mannix is a movie studio problem solver at the outset, and he remains one. Hobie Doyle is a simpleton from start to finish. This movie is a strange collection of scenes that add up to nothing.


The hero is Eddie Mannix. He has all manner of challenges with the screwball crew of actors he has to wrangle. But as far as a transformation, it’s hard to gauge what he’s working on. One of his challenges is the opportunity to go to work for a defense contractor as a manager. The lifestyle would be easier and the money better, but Mannix loves the job he’s doing. Ultimately, he chooses to stay with the movie company, despite the toll it takes on him physically and his family life. I don’t know if this is a transformation, as he pretty much ends up where he started. But at least he’s resolved an issue of internal turmoil.

The supporting characters, as I said, are a variety of nut cases. But they are all cut from the same cloth. As actors they are self-centered and oblivious to the workings of the world around them. As such, they make for a sort of hydra-character – multiple heads but one body. That is, they are all one supporting character which is the trouble child. I will make one exception to that. The western kid, Hobie Doyle, turns out to be a very sharp tack in the bunch. When Whitlock is abducted, it’s Doyle who knows how to deal with the bad guys and gives advice to Mannix. He’s not quite a mentor, but it is at least a confidante.


Greg, forgive me if I launch into the ratings for this movie right away. The less said about Hail, Caesar, the better. The film is an odd mix of vignettes about the movie industry from a bygone era, and it’s a mix that offers neither a coherent message nor any entertainment value. The Coen brothers usually deliver the goods, and so I’m scratching my head wondering what they missed or what I missed. Based on what I saw, this movie disappoints on the level of storytelling, character development, and the hero’s journey. I’m sorry to give Hail, Caesar one single Reel out of 5.

There is no hero’s journey, and so let’s assign the movie 1 Hero out of 5 and then go right to the rating of the mentors in the story. Oh wait — there is no story, and so there are no mentors. I suppose it could be argued that Mannix is a mentor figure, as he counsels people here and there, and he even tells Baird Whitlock to get his act together at the very end. He should have told the Coen brothers to get their act together. We never see any lasting fruits of Mannix’s mentoring labors, if you can call them that. Mannix the much maligned mentor merits a metric of 1 Mentor out of 5.

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That’s alright Scott. Hail, Caesar is a confusing mass of conflicting impulses (that’s for all you Star Trek fans out there). There is very little plot and what little there is not coherent. Over the last five years we’ve been viewing movies we’ve seen a pattern of movie releases.

May through September are the summer blockbusters. October is for scary movies. November and December are the doldrums except for arthouse films that are in limited release to qualify for the Oscars. January films are the Oscar hopefuls that were released at the end of December to just qualify for nomination. Then there’s February, March, and April. These are the dregs of the film schedule and Hail, Caesar falls nicely into that range. I award it 2 out of 5 Reels since I appreciated the craft necessary to reflect back on the golden age of filmmaking, if I didn’t enjoy the story.

Eddie Mannix is an interesting guy with a number of challenges and a constant set of inner conflicts. When we rate a hero we look for a problem to solve and a transformation. Mannix has an inner problem – whether to take a cushy job. But he doesn’t have much of a transformation. While he comes to peace with the life he’s chosen, he’s very much the same fellow at the end as at the beginning. I give him 2 out of 5 Heroes.

And this year we’re rating mentor characters. The role of the mentor is to guide the hero in his quest. Aside from the one time he asks Hobie Doyle for advice, Mannix is mentorless. He’s very much an island unto himself. He enjoys the chaos that the studio imposes on his life and ultimately he chooses that life. But he does it largely alone and so the mentor character is quite absent, and the story suffers for it. I give Hail, Caesar 0 out of 5 Mentors.

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The Big Short ••1/2

The_Big_Short_teaser_posterStarring: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling
Director: Adam McKay
Screenplay: Charles Randolph, Adam McKay
Biography/Drama, Rated: R
Running Time: 130 minutes
Release Date: December 23, 2015

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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I thought this was a movie about oversized boxers.


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

It’s less about underwear than about underhanded dealings. Let’s recap.


It’s 2005 and  hedge fund manager Michael Burry (Christian Bale) predicts the housing market will collapse. He creates a credit default swap where he bets against the housing market. Nobody believes him and so his clients try to pull out of the fund. Meanwhile…


Hedge fund manager Mark Baum (Steve Carell) discovers that stock trader Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) is also involved in the credit default swap market. Baum wants more information before he barrels into these unprecedented investment waters, and he is shocked to learn that the housing market is about to burst. He and others are shown how they attempt to capitalize on the impending housing bubble. Meanwhile…


Recent college graduates Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) find a prospectus by Vennett. They call upon their buddy Ben Rikert (Brad Pitt) to help them get into the deal. They go to a Los Vegas convention where a mortgage security forum is taking place. With Ben’s help they make their deals. And that’s when all hell breaks loose.


Greg, I suppose I should be very interested in what The Big Short is telling us about greed and corruption in corporate America. After all, this movie spares no detail in illuminating the many ways that Americans like me were bamboozled by a bunch of white-collar scumbags who invented ways to make money at the expense of their country and every decent person around them. These fat-cats in suits were, in effect, organized criminals and thugs, preying on the innocent, selling their souls to the devil, and laughing all the way to the bank.

I do care about all that because, after all, it is a true story and this entire mess happened  only a few years ago. And I am very unhappy about it. I am not, however, a big fan of The Big Short. This movie did portray all this ugliness, and did it well, but it did so in the form of little vignettes about fat cats causing the mess and fat cats trying to gain financially  from the mess. The nitty gritty specifics of the shady dealings didn’t hold my interest and were, in fact, tedious.


I have to agree, although to a lesser extent. This was a documentary in a Hollywood wrapper. There were moments when the filmmakers wanted to explain something difficult so they tried to “dumb it down” by having it presented by Margot Robbie in a bubble bath or Selena Gomez at a roulette table. It wasn’t effective. Instead it was just confusing.

I don’t blame the “heroes” in this story for capitalizing by betting against the market. They were smart enough to see the bad debts coming due. What the film tries to do, and does it fairly well, is to show us just how intricate and corrupt the financial system is. Even the Standard and Poor’s ratings executives were afraid to downgrade the CDOs for fear of pissing off the big banks. Everyone was either covering their ass, or trying to profit from the bubble.


Exactly. This movie features a lot of players in the mortgage feeding frenzy, including main characters who appear to be neither heroes nor villains but just people out to make a buck. I didn’t have any feelings for the majority of the players. For example, are we supposed to feel badly for Michael Burry that his foresight about the housing bubble, and his scheme to make money from this foresight, was going unrewarded?

The closest thing to a hero in this movie would be Mark Baum, who starts out as a bitter, brooding man solely motivated by profit like everyone else in this film. Yet as the horror of the mortgage mess unfolds, Baum slowly transforms into a man who recaptures his humanity. Also, Brad Pitt’s character, Ben Rickert, shows some empathic concern for others when he schools a couple of young upstarts about the increased mortality rate associated with bad economic data. So there are two characters at least, Baum and Rickert, who are chasing a buck like everyone else but who at least pause for a moment to consider the human cost of this financial disaster.


Yeah, this was a pretty tedious story. The filmmakers tried to give Baum a transformation by sharing with us his tragic loss. His brother had committed suicide and when he had a chance to help him, he just offered him money. Baum is idealistic and realizes that he can’t fix the world and ultimately forgives himself. It’s all a bit clumsy and pretty uninteresting.

Scott, The Big Short is what I call a “cause” film. It isn’t about the story, it’s about telling the world about some “cause” important to the filmmakers. As such, the cause becomes the hero of the story and the elements of good storytelling are left behind. Especially in this film, there are no heroes – only a tragedy that needs to be exposed. Frankly, such causes should be left to documentaries.


You’re right, Greg. The Big Short is short on plot, short on character development, and short on heroes. It explains the 2008 financial crisis in far more detail than anyone cares to hear. The film did drive home the point that our elected officials and private corporations are not to be trusted to look out for our best interest — but wait, hasn’t that always been obvious? The one thing I did learn was never order seafood stew when dining at a restaurant. You’ll have to see this movie to understand this fishy metaphor. Overall, I felt shortchanged by The Big Short. I give this movie 2 Reels out of 5.

There is no hero story, unless you walk away believing that all these money-chasers somehow learned their lesson about unbridled greed. I doubt that they did. Perhaps their transformation resided in their newfound lesson in how to milk the system in sneakier ways, or how not to get caught when exploiting others. I’m not sure. Yes, Mark Baum finds some semblance of his humanity, but his awakening hardly qualifies as a hero’s journey. I award these heroes (ahem) 1 Hero out of 5.

The supporting characters do a commendable job of pursuing their greedy lifestyles and trying to find the best way to make a buck. It was a bit jarring seeing Steve Carell in a non-comedic role and he somehow pulled it off with skill and alacrity. I wonder if the villain in this story is time itself. Everything is about timing the market, getting in on the deal on time, the timing of the housing bubble, the time that investors give a broker to earn a profit, etc. Overall, the players in this movie did their jobs fairly well and so I can see giving them 3 cast rating points out of 5.

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The Big Short comes up short in making me care about anyone in this film. However, I did walk away better informed about the 2007 housing market collapse. As such, this “cause” film delivered on its goals. I give it 3 out of 5 Reels.

The lead characters were not the heroes of the story – the market collapse was. And that rates only 1 out of 5 Heroes.

The supporting cast was stellar. We’ve seen big-star-casts before that deliver a disappointment, but The Big Short does a great job of integrating all these talents. I think the villain in this movie is the big banks and government. I give them 3 out of 5 Cast points.

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Krampus •1/2

Krampus_posterStarring: Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner
Director: Michael Dougherty
Screenplay: Todd Casey, Michael Dougherty
Comedy/Horror/Fantasy, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 98 minutes
Release Date: December 4, 2015

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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

Well, Greg, someone’s coming to town. And it’s not who you think.


They’ve put a kramp(us) in our style. Let’s recap…


We meet a somewhat typical American family living in the burbs: Tom (Adam Scott), Sarah (Toni Collette), and their kids Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen) and Max (Emjay Anthony). Sarah’s sister’s family arrives and we are witness to plenty of tension and family dysfunction. Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell) is particularly difficult and reviled by most of the family. Max is ridiculed for wanting to follow family traditions, including the task of writing a letter to Santa. But Max writes the letter anyway.


Things continue to go sour in the household and Max tears up the letter and throws it into the night with a wish for a better family. Grandma “Omi” warns that Santa’s alter ego, the Krampus, will descend on families who don’t get along at Christmastime. Soon thereafter, all the power goes out in the neighborhood and daughter Beth decides she needs to brave the storm to see her boyfriend. She’s not gone long when a strange beast descends upon her and she hides under a car. Then, a strange toy explodes and Beth is no more.


Greg, Krampus is a strange movie that suffers from not knowing what it wants to be. If it is trying to be a horror movie, it fails because the premise, the characters, and the so-called scary scenes are neither realistic nor scary. If it is trying to be a comedy, it fails because the attempts at humor or satire fall flat. Krampus lacks a rudder and a compass. It drifts along, finding a way to fill two hours without producing a single memorable moment.

The primary hero of the story is probably poor Max, who deserves a better family and a better fate. One could argue that the family unit is the hero, with the entire family ensemble being terrorized by Krampus and his gang of misfit minions. Debating whether the hero is Max or his family is pointless, as no one in this movie really grows in any way. They just try to survive one Krampus attack after another. Perhaps at the end they’ve been humbled and will now treat each other better. Perhaps. By the end of the movie, frankly, we don’t really care.


Harsh words, Scott. I think Krampus seeks the same audience as 1984’s Gremlins. This is a dark Christmas comedy. It borrows heavily from horror concepts like the hidden villain and gross-out visuals. It could very well become a cult classic. Like many horror films, the characters are picked off one by one and the people who are the least likable are the most likely to be done in. While I do think you’re a bit hard on Krampus, Scott, I have to agree that it lacks a sensible direction.

It’s pretty clear to me Max is the hero of this story. It’s very much told from his point of view. He is the one who made the Christmas wish that he wanted a better family. And at the end of the story he gets his wish. It’s just that the family lives in fear of being demolished by the Krampus if they don’t behave. I’m reminded of the great Billy Mumy episode of The Twilight Zone called “It’s a Good Life” where everyone feared the little boy and behaved perfectly for fear of being wished into the corn field. Krampus works on that level and so it’s the family who are transformed, even though Max is the protagonist. It’s a less cathartic ending, but it makes sense given the concept.


The supporting characters are right out of the stock-character section of your local K-Mart. Grandma Omi plays the role of the exotic and mysterious prophet whom no one listens to until it is too late. Max’s cousins are garden variety bullies. Aunt Dorothy is such an abomination that no one would ever invite her over to their house, yet this family does just that. This movie is populated by caricatures, not characters.

Krampus himself should be interesting, or at least is potentially interesting, but this movie manages to portray Krampus as the dullest villain we’ve seen in the movies this year. We aren’t given any information about Krampus, his origins, or his mindset. Krampus just wants to torment the family and pick them off, one by one. Even his henchmen are uninteresting dolls who are supposed to be either scary or funny or some weird combination of the two. All I know is that I kept looking at my watch, waiting for this film to end.


Scott, I’m reminded of the hero/villain structure we presented in our book Reel Heroes & Villains. Max’s extended family represent an ensemble cast headed by Max’s parents. The Krampus is the evil mastermind and his followers are the henchmen – doing the dirty work.

I agree with you that we’ve seen all of these characters before. This movie was much more a cartoon or even a situation comedy rather than a Hollywood feature. Every character was straight out of the Hollywood trope handbook. Some of the actors were even well-known TV personalities from sitcoms gone by. There are no memorable characters here. Everyone just played the stereotype they were dealt.


Krampus is a forgettable film about Santa’s nasty doppleganger who is as evil as Santa is good. This is a gimmick film, with the gimmick being the anti-Santa. All the terrorizing that Krampus does to that unfortunate family is by-the-numbers and far from interesting. So we’re left with a gimmick, and not a good one at that. I can’t think of a reason to give Pus Cramp more than one single pathetic Reel out of 5.

There’s not much of a hero’s story to speak of, unless watching a family be terrorized by a dull anti-Santa constitutes a story. You’re right, Greg, that Max’s hurt feelings may now and forever be holding the family hostage each Christmas. Does this represent a hero’s transformation?  I don’t think so. As mentioned before, the family has certainly been humbled and it may now give Grandma the respect she deserves. But that’s hardly a transformation worth watching. Again I give a rating of 1 out of 5 in the hero category.

The supporting characters were flimsy stereotypes and as forgettable as last week’s meat loaf. Not a single character is the least bit memorable, unless you count one of the cars that broke down in the road. I do remember that car, as it had the good sense to check out of the movie early on.  No surprise here that I award this cast 1 cast rating point out of 5.

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Well, Scott, some of us like meatloaf. Krampus is not as imaginative or enjoyable as Gremlins, but I think it hits its mark. It was released in time for Christmas but I it may find a home as a Halloween treat as well. I don’t see much need to see this film again, but I liked it more than you did as I laughed at the many ways the director and writers found to kill off family members with Christmas joy. I give Krampus 2 out of 5 Reels.

The hero’s journey is muddied by the fact that it is Max who is the protagonist, but it is the extended family who learn the lessons. We’ve identified this pattern as the “catalytic” hero. In this case, Max is the catalyst for imparting a transformation in others. The problem is that it is the evil Krampus’s temper that teaches a lesson, not Max’s heroism. So, this is a pretty weak hero’s journey, after all. I give Max just 2 out of 5 Heroes.

As we both noted, the secondary characters are mere cookie-cutter shadows of trite Hollywood favorites. Although, I thought Grandma “Omi” was memorable – and Krista Stadler delivered an Oscar-worthy performance in an otherwise unremarkable film. I give the supporting cast just 2 Cast points out of 5.

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Self/Less ••

Selfless_posterStarring: Ryan Reynolds, Natalie Martinez, Matthew Goode
Director: Tarsem Singh
Screenplay: David Pastor, Àlex Pastor
Mystery/Sci-Fi/Thriller, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 117 minutes
Release Date: July 10, 2015

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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Scott, if anyone had told me Ryan Reynolds was Selfless I would have thought it was a joke.


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

There’s a slash in the title, suggesting either great intrigue or great gimmickry. Let’s recap.


We’re introduced to Damian Hayes (Ben Kingsley) who is not just old, but near death. He is a very rich man and looks into a technology called “shedding.” His entire mind will be transferred into another body – a younger body that has been grown in a lab and looks a lot like Ryan Reynolds. The transfer goes well but the new Damien has to relearn how to walk and talk. And he has to take red pills to prevent rejection. “New” Damien is doing pretty well when he starts to have nightmares about an alternate life.


The new Damien Google-searches the images he’s seeing in his hallucinations and discovers that his dreams take place in Missouri. He heads to St. Louis, rents a car, and meanders his way into a woman’s home. He learns that his Ryan Reynolds-like body was once this woman’s husband. Meanwhile, the mastermind of the shedding company Albright (Matthew Goode), has sent his henchmen to follow Damien. They try to kill him and the woman, and so now Damien is on the run, trying to unveil the truth about shedding and his true identity.


Scott, this movie had great potential. We start off with an Academy Award winner in Ben Kingsley. He is quickly discarded for the more youthful and less talented Ryan Reynolds. We didn’t get enough time with Kingsley to really recognize him when he wakes up in a different body. And the Reynolds’ character very quickly goes from enjoying his young body to searching for the origins of his new body. Reynolds doesn’t really act like a man who woke up in another man’s body. He seems very motivated to reconcile the wrong that allowed him to “shed” his old body. The Kingsley character was a cut-throat, unflinching, even uncaring pragmatist. But the Reynolds character is the complete opposite. It doesn’t make sense.


You’re right, Greg. Kingsley’s character, Damian Hayes, isn’t on screen long enough for us to get to know him or really care about him. From what we do know, he shouldn’t react in some of the ways that the Ryan Reynolds version of him reacts. For one thing, Damian Hayes as Kingsley is very intelligent, yet he is easily duped by Albright and remains duped even after the physical transformation. Every human body has little marks and imperfections from everyday wear-and-tear. He should have noticed the obvious signs that his new Reynolds body is a “used” (or pre-owned) body.

Another problem with Self/Less is its lack of originality. The 1968 final episode of the original Star Trek series was called Turnabout Intruder, and it featured a similar body and identity switch. Conveniently, to justify any kind of story, Self/Less employs a transference process that is flawed, requiring the ingestion of a pill to completely eliminate the host’s prior identity. Of course this process has to go awry for us to have any kind of story, and the resolution of the conflict, with the Reynolds-Damien character getting the girl in the end, is highly predictable.


The villains in this story are pretty bland. There’s a Steve Jobs-type super genius who invented shedding and tries to control Damien with promises that the red pills will make him feel better. And there’s his new best friend Anton (Derek Luke) who alternately tries to help and then kill Damien. He’s the henchman to Albright’s mastermind.

For secondary characters there is the love interest Madeline (Natalie Martinez) who still loves her husband and is shocked to see his body return with another man at the helm. And also a little daughter Anna (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen) who is the whole reason Ryan Reynolds original body owner gave his body to “science.” (It seems little Anna needed chemotherapy and original Ryan Reynolds sold his body to pay for it). She’s adorable and serves the purpose of being cute in the midst of all the craziness.


There isn’t much more to say, so let’s get right to the ratings. Self/Less employs a tired premise of body-switching that uses stock characters and situations that left me uninspired. The performances from the cast are fine but I sensed from the actors that they knew they were stuck in a B-movie. Pretty much everything we see in Self/Less is predictable and unimaginative, and really the only people who need to see this film are fans of Ryan Reynolds. Self/Less earns a measly 2 Reels out of 5.

The hero story fell flat to me because, as we’ve mentioned, the protagonist Damian appears to make choices that are inconsistent with his character after he undergoes his physical transformation. One could argue that he’s simply experiencing a moral transformation and has learned the importance of doing the right thing. That may be possible but the transformation doesn’t appear to have been triggered by anything and thus doesn’t ring true. I can only award Damian a paltry 2 Heroes out of 5.

As you note, Greg, the villain Albright is rather dull, and I sensed that Matthew Goode was chosen for this role only because of his English accent. Again, there are stock characters who help and hinder Damian but they’re all rather forgettable. Even the love interest and her cute kid failed to inspire much enthusiasm. The cast also is also saddled with a rating of 2 out of 5.

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Forgettable is the operative word here, Scott. The movie seemed to forget the main character’s true self and transformed into a martyr without visible cause. I also give Self/Less 2 out of 5 Reels.

Ryan Reynolds just can’t seem to catch a break. I think he’s tried to move away from his comedy roots into more dramatic roles, but he keeps ending up in these ‘B’ movies. His work in the earlier film Woman in Gold opposite Helen Mirren was very good. But the movie attracted little attention against the summertime popcorn movies. As you note, Scott, Damien’s transformation is unbelievable and so I can give Damien only 1 Hero out of 5.

And the supporting cast is lackluster. We see the typical Mastermind/Henchman villain structure and the girlfriend and daughter complete a familial unit. The supporting cast gets just 2 out of 5 Cast points.

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