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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


Scott, partying is such sweet sorrow.

(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:

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



(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.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

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.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Suburbicon •

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Movie: Transformation: 0  Heroes: 0

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

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

Movie: Transformation: 0  Heroes:

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



(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 Mummy •1/2

Starring: Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis
Director: Alex Kurtzman
Screenplay: David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie
Action/Adventure/Fantasy, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 110 minutes
Release Date: June 9, 2017



Scott, I’m all wrapped up in this new Tom Cruise film.

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

Greg, you sound all wound up. I’d switch to de-coffin-ated coffee if I were you. Let’s recap.

We’re introduced to two travellers on horseback in the sandy dunes of Iraq. Government contractor Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) encourages his sidekick friend Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) to ride into the town below and steal some religious artifacts to sell on the black market. Vail is dubious, especially considering that the town is overrun with Iraqi insurgents. They race into the town and are immediately surrounded by gunfire. Vail calls in an airstrike that scares away the militants. But it also reveals a giant Egyptian tomb buried under the town.

Morton’s recent love interest, Jenny (Annabelle Wallis) is an archeologist on the scene. She’s excited to discover the tomb of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) along with the sarcophagus. It is priceless.  Morton makes the mistake of making eye contact with the sarcophagus, as it causes a curse to be passed from Ahmanet to Morton. The sarcophagus is transported out of Iraq by plane but the curse of Ahmanet leads to the evil possession of Vail and causes the plane to crash, killing Morton. Or so we think.


Scott, The Mummy is the first in a potential series of films in the Dark Universe franchise from Universal Films. It’s an attempt by Universal to cash in on the latest trend of extended universes as seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and DC Extended Universe. Universal is tying together such classics as The Mummy, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, and others. This incarnation of The Mummy is an origin story for the Tom Cruise character to become the main character on a quest to seek out and destroy evil monsters who live amongst us.

Exactly, Greg. Only Universal’s plans are a universal failure. This movie simply doesn’t work, and the reasons for the failure are numerous. We just reviewed Wonder Woman, which falls roughly in the same genre making it impossible not to compare the two films. WW told a good story and didn’t rely on the CGI effects to be the main attraction.The Mummy, on the other hand, is solely about placing Tom Cruise in scary situations and then watching zombies, rats, or birds wreak havoc on him. There are numerous chase scenes that we simply don’t need to see. The story felt flat and lifeless to me.

Other problems abound. Morton’s sidekick Vail becomes possessed and goes on a stabbing spree on a plane, bringing it down and killing many people. Yet afterward this still-possessed sidekick regains his normal personality and kids around with Morton as if nothing had happened. We also have an unfortunate regression to the days when women constantly needed to be rescued by men. We witness Morton save Jenny’s life over and over again, which causes her to fall in love with him (insert gag reaction here). I was left completely disappointed by the film’s end.

I agree, this was a complete waste of celluloid – if only it were on film. There were so many problems with this film. At the core the biggest problem is that we don’t know what anyone wants in this film. Morton saves Jenny, wakes up cursed, and he doesn’t want to do anything about it. He doesn’t want to cure himself. He doesn’t want to find the mummy. He doesn’t seem to want or need to get back to his job. WIthout a main goal for each character, the story is pointless. And so it meanders – as you point out – from chase scene to chase scene.

Another problem with this story is Morton’s relationship with Jenny. In the end of the story Morton gives his life to save Jenny. But the filmmakers never establish a strong relationship between the two. We know they had a one night stand, but otherwise, there is no strong feelings between them. So his sacrifice is an empty one.

Well, I suspect the filmmakers were hoping to create a believable love story, the kind where two attractive people start out on shaky ground and then bond through adversity. We talk about romantic duos in our latest book Reel Heroes & Villains. So our two heroes are destined to undergo an emotional transformation, with each helping the other grow. Jenny helps Morton become a better person and see the value of things beyond monetary profit. In turn, Morton’s good deeds win Jenny’s heart. I found neither of these transformations to be authentic or believable. They are based on insulting gender stereotypes from yesteryear.

As a hero Morton comes up short. He’s not very honest or courageous. He does occasionally do something good – like saving Jenny. But overall, he’s not someone we think of as a model citizen. He’s selfish and self-serving. In the end he gives up his life to save Jenny. As you point out, it’s not a believable transformation.

There are other transformations, however. We see the goddess Ahmanet going from a high priestess, to a murderer, to a mummy and ultimately dispatched into nothingness. We see Vail go from a headstrong (albeit reluctant) profiteer, to a ghost, back to living sidekick to Morton. None of these transformations are particularly interesting as The Mummy isn’t really about characters and their transformations, it’s about creating ghastly images. And frankly, I’ve seen better quality scary stuff on HBO and Starz this year. The Mummy is pretty dull.

Enough said. The Mummy is a film that disappoints on many levels. At the center of this disheveled story is poor Tom Cruise being pulverized by various objects and creatures. His reputation as an actor takes the biggest hit, however. If this movie’s goal was to kickstart Universal Films’ new franchise of monster movies, well, I’m sorry to report that the franchise is off to a bad start. The Mummy earns only 1 Reel out of 5.

Our two heroes’ love story never rings true, with Jenny being a damsel in constant distress and Norton saving her repeatedly despite having the moral center of a sea-slug. Yes, there is a hero’s journey here but it is “forced” and anachronistic. As mentioned earlier, I also had a problem with Norton’s sidekick Vail who one moment is a possessed killer and the next moment is a wisecracking buddy. The hero rating here is 2 Heroes out of 5.

The emotional transformations of Norton and Vail never ring true, and in fact they are irrelevant in a movie whose main goal is to incessantly throw bats, ravens, and zombies at our two heroes. A rating of 2 transformational Deltas out of 5 seems about right to me.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:

That’s a nice “wrap” up Scott. The Mummy is a dull, uninteresting monster thriller that deserves only 2 Reels out of 5 for its lackluster story. The hero’s journey is likewise dull and forced. I give Morton just 2 Heroes out of 5. And while there are several transformations in this story, I can only muster 2 Deltas out of 5. It seems Universal is off to a slow start in its new franchise. If The Mummy is any indication, Dark Universe will also be dank and disappointing. Let’s hope things get better.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:

The Promise •1/2

Starring: Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon, Christian Bale
Director: Terry George
Screenplay: Terry George, Robin Swicord
Drama/History, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 133 minutes
Release Date: April 21, 2017



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

Greg, do you promise to review this next movie with me?

OK. But I don’t see much promise in a 5-Reel review. Let’s recap:

The story begins in 1914 with a young apothecary named Mikael (Oscar Isaac) leaving his small town of Sirun in Turkey to attend medical school in Constantinople. Mikael promises to marry a young woman in Sirun and uses her dowry to finance his schooling. At med school, Mikael meets Emri (Marwan Kenzari), the nephew of a high ranking Turkish government official. Mikael also meets Chris (Christian Bale), an American AP reporter, and Chris’s lovely girlfriend Ana (Charlotte Le Bon).

It’s not long before Mikael falls in love with Ana. But their stars are crossed because just as they realize their love, the Turks attack the Armenians. Emri is drafted into the army and Mikael is captured as a slave to lay train tracks for the Turkish army. Chris goes undercover to report on the atrocities the Turkish army commits against the Armenian people while Ana works with churches to save orphans. Mikael escapes from the Turkish army and returns to his village where he marries his betrothed and goes into hiding.

Greg, The Promise is a decent movie that could have been, perhaps should have been, a grand, sweeping, memorable epic. The story of the genocide of the Armenian people deserved Oscar-worthy treatment. There is the tremendous suffering of an entire people, death on an unimaginable scale, incredible heroism, the worst kind of villainy, treachery, bravery, romance, and more. Yet we’re only left with a semi-decent movie. That’s really a shame.

What went wrong exactly? Greg, I’m sure you have your opinions and I’m eager to hear them. My own feeling is that this film is a near-miss. The filmmakers’ treatment of the genocide is done well, but the romantic triangle involving Mikael, Ana, and Chris has all the depth and complexity of a slice of white bread. These three lovers are all brave, selfless heroes who show no reaction to the triangle except show acceptance of it and tolerance for the other parties involved. That’s commendable, I suppose, but it’s hardly the stuff of good drama. By the end of the movie I was left wondering why they bothered to include so much material about a love triangle that goes nowhere.

Scott, we’ve seen a lot of “cause” movies in the last 5 years – and we’re going to see more soon, I guarantee. The problem with “cause” films is that they serve more to educate the audience about the cause than to deliver a compelling story. The Promise breaks its promise because it doesn’t let us know it is a cause film. It draws us in with the promise of a story about love in a distant land. Instead, it delivers a one-sided view of the Armenian genocide. The would have done better to create a documentary.

You’re right, Scott. The Promise is a lackluster story of three people we don’t really care about. We never spend enough time with these people to “bind” with them and develop an affinity towards them that would make us care when something bad happens. When we see a village of Armenians left for dead in a river, they are a nameless, faceless mass and it is hard to get worked up over their demise. To make this even more difficult to get invested in this film, this is an event that happened in a foreign land, to a foreign people, over one hundred years ago. It’s just not compelling enough to make a difference in our everyday lives. In addition, there’s no “call to action.” What do we do with this new information? We can’t bring these poor people back from the dead. We are left with a “so what” feeling since we don’t know these people, they have been dead over 100 years, and the story we were promised was a ruse to give us a history lesson. It’s just not engaging.

Well, in this film’s defense, there are plenty of compelling historical movies showing the atrocities of human evil. I’m thinking of Schindler’s List, for example. If done well, these movies tell an important story that can be riveting and must never be forgotten. The Promise just isn’t in the same league as Schindler’s List, for reasons that we’ve both mentioned.

All three major characters in The Promise are put to the test multiple times throughout the film, and all three show gallantry and courage to the extreme. The severe situations confronting them brought our steely resolve and inspiring selflessness. My main complaint is that the characters are a bit too perfect. Effective characters, even heroes, have flaws, and in fact a hero’s flaws make her even more heroic, or at least give her more heroic potential. The only flaw we see among Mikael, Anna, and Chris is perhaps Chris’s occasional heaving drinking. We need more depth from our heroes for them to come alive on the screen and for us to relate to them.

Actually, I had little sympathy for Mikael and Ana because they were adulterers. Mikael had taken a woman’s dowry with the promise to become a doctor and return to marry her and raise a family in their village. Ana is attached to Chris but takes up with Mikael. Mikael falls in love with Ana and begins to make plans to leave his betrothed. This is not a situation where he was left with no other options. He simply preferred Ana over his fiance. He’s a bit of a jerk and I didn’t have any sympathy for his plight.  When war breaks out, Mikael is imprisoned and Ana returns to Chris expecting him to take her back. And when Mikael turns up alive, she runs back into his arms. These are not the actions of noble individuals.

As for transformations, it’s hard to see who transforms in this story. By the end of the movie, Chris is still the brave American journalist. Anna is still the adorable and charming ingenue. And Mikael is the bereaved adulterer. The lack of transformation in this story is another reason the whole story falls flat.

The Promise had promise but squandered it by juxtaposing a romance alongside the genocidal murder of almost 2 million people. If you were going to make a movie about a genocide, would you name the movie after the largely irrelevant romance that transpires during the atrocity? This miscalculation neuters the movie, leaving us unsatisfied by characters whose love lives don’t really move us in any meaningful way. I give this movie 2 Reels out of 5.

Our three heroes have all the qualities of good heroes but are rather one-dimensional. They certainly go on the hero’s journey, encounter obstacles, collide with enemies and receive help from friends. Some aspects of these hero journeys are worth viewing but they aren’t terribly memorable. Moreover, there isn’t the all-essential hero’s transformation to be seen anywhere, except perhaps with the character of Emri, who faints during a surgical operation, has the courage to inform the US Ambassador about Chris’s imprisonment, and is then executed by the Turks. These hero journeys earn 3 Heroes out of 5, and the transformations (or lack thereof) deserve a rating of 1 transformation Delta out of 5.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:

The Promise is a lackluster story of a genocide that occurred to people we don’t know over 100 years ago. It’s hard to get worked up over the events without becoming attached to the people in the story – and the filmmakers never gave us that chance. I give The Promise 1 out of 5 Reels.

The lead characters in this story aren’t very heroic. Mikael and Ana are cheaters. Only Chris and Emri display heroic qualities that we admire. I give them 2 out of 5 Heroes.

And there are no transformations of note. Everyone ends up pretty much as they started. I give this movie 1 Delta out of 5.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:

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


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

(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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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


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(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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The Visit •

The_Visit_(2015_film)_posterStarring: Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Screenplay: M. Night Shyamalan
Comedy/Horror, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 94 minutes
Release Date: September 11, 2015


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

Greg, it’s time to visit The Visit.

In which we’re reminded of something we’ve known since childhood: old people are scary. Let’s recap.

We meet a woman named Paula (Kathryn Hahn) and her two children, a 13-year-old son named Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) and his older sister Becca (Olivia DeJonge). Becca is estranged from her parents, and consequently Tyler and Becca have never met their grandparents, who live far away in Pennsylvania.

Tyler and Becca’s grandparents have finally gotten in touch with Paula and have requested to have the grandchildren come stay with them for a week. Paula is unsure at first, but gives in to the request when the children point out that she’s not had a vacation since… forever. So the children get on a train and meet their grandparents for the first time.

Things are going pretty well. The children settle into their new abode and Grandpa comes into the bedroom and says that it’s best if they all go to bed at 9:30. After all, these folks are old and accustomed to an early bedtime. However, things get creepy when Becca hears strange noises. She opens the bedroom door only to see her grandmother walking aimlessly around downstairs and vomiting on the floor. The next day Grandpa explains Gramma has “Sundown Syndrome” which makes her kind of crazy after the sun goes down. And we’re off…

The Visit is the scary movie we’ve seen a million times before. There is the predictable set-up, where a family is happily excited about entering into a new situation. We encounter the scary entities (in this case the grandparents), and for some reason these scary entities decide to become scary gradually. There are plenty of false alarm scares. We have victims (in this case two kids) who don’t leave the house when anyone in their right minds, even kids, would leave in a heartbeat. We have a warning early in the story not to go somewhere (in this case, a basement). Yet somehow our victims go there anyway.

So there’s nothing original here. We even have the derivative use of a handheld cam, along with several absurd situations where our victims are holding the cam long after it makes any sense to do so. The absurdity is heightened by one of the victims taking a poopy diaper in the face. Yes, you read that correctly. No, this isn’t the Three Stooges, but Moe would have been proud to have delivered that poopy-diaper-facial.

You’re right about that Scott. The good thing about this movie is that the horror is played up for laughs. It’s not as smart as, say, 2012’s The Cabin in the Woods but it comes close. The movie seems to know that it’s a ridiculous horror movie so it has our heroes do crazy things. Tyler is a budding young rap star, or so he thinks. He’s obsessed with getting girls to like him so he makes up rap lyrics about how all the girls his age are a foot taller than him, etc…

Becca is a wanna-be movie director, so it makes sense that she’d want to videotape everything and gives her brother a camera too – so he can videotape everything. Each day ends with Becca reviewing and editing her self-shot videos into a documentary about her mother and grandparents.

This “found footage” approach has been used in horror films before. It was most notably used in The Blair Witch Project (1999) and in J.J. Abrams’ Cloverfield (2008). Director M. Night Shyamalan spoofs the technique by having the actors do things no one in their right minds would do. Like pointing the camera behind them as they run. Or having the grandmother find a hidden camera, only to drop it in just the right place so the audience can witness her trying to open a door with a butcher’s knife. Since it looks like a spoof, we’re all happy to play along.

Speaking of Shyamalan, The Visit even features the typical Shyamalan surprise-ending, all predicated on the confluence of many unlikely events, namely, that the kids have never seen photos of their grandparents, that mom never sees the grandparents during their Skype chats, that visitors always come over when no one is home, etc. Now that I think about it, that poopy diaper to the face was the highlight of the movie.

There is no hero transformation in this movie that I could detect, with the possible exception that maybe the two kids are scarred for life and will need decades of therapy. For this movie to work, the two trapped kids have to experience something interesting, mystical, or transformative to escape their horrid situation. Alas, the resolution is not even remotely interesting. Shyamalan arranges for the girl to stab grandma and the boy to hit grandpa with the refrigerator door. It’s a pedestrian ending to a pedestrian movie.

I think we have this problem with extreme genre films, Scott. When you look at slapstick comedy (which The Visit comes close to) you realize that story is secondary to yucks. Likewise with horror movies. What’s important is the fright factor. People don’t go to these films to be uplifted or to learn something deep – they go for the feelings of laughter and fright.

And I’m OK with that. I think you overlook the fact that Tyler has always felt his dad left home because he froze during a tackle in a pee-wee football game. This has left him with guilt and germaphobia. Well, the diaper in the face fixed the germaphobia and the climactic scene where he saves his sister by tackling Grandpa shows his growth as well. It’s not fantastic growth, but I think it counts.

The secondary characters of the grandparents were interesting as they evolved from being kindly mentors into dark mentors and even “pure evil” villains in the end. The mother is in the prologue and epilogue and otherwise has no purpose in the film – other than to be oblivious to the danger she’s put her children into. And finally, the two mental hospital employees who check in on the kids are not really germane at all.

The Visit is not worth a visit to the theater, nor is it worth a visit to Netflix, unless of course you love seeing incontinent old people terrorizing young children. I found The Visit to be humorless, predictable, and uninteresting. The two child actors, however, did a very nice job with mundane material, and so kudos to Ed Oxenbould and Olivia DeJonge for making the most of their poopy situation. I give The Visit a grand total of 1 Reel out of 5.

I didn’t detect much of a hero’s journey here at all, although I will grant you that the two kids were thrown into a dangerous unfamiliar world. But that’s about the only element of the classic hero quest that I see here. There’s no mentor figure or transformation, although you’re right, Greg, that the dirty diaper was the answer to the boy’s fecal-phobia. I’ll be generous and award our buddy heroes 2 Heroes out of 5.

As you point out, Greg, there aren’t many secondary characters. The two deranged grandparents do a decent job of creeping us out, and the kids’ mom does a serviceable job in her role. The supporting characters get a whopping 2 rating points out of 5.

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I found The Visit to be a light-hearted jab at the horror genre. Shyamalan did a good job of giving the audience exactly what it wanted: something simple with a predictable twist. He used his many talents to produce a comedic horror film without getting lost in his own mythos. It’s not a great horror film, and not a great comedy. I give it just 1 Reel out of 5.

The protagonists of the story comprise a type of buddy hero pair that we haven’t examined until now: that of siblings. They represent a pretty simplified view of siblings who love each other but also kind of get on each others nerves. We haven’t seen the likes of this since The Brady Bunch. Unlike you, Scott, I saw some transformation for our heroes. But I have to admit, it looked like it was thrown in at the last moment. I give them just 2 Heroes out of 5.

As for our secondary characters: the mother is a prop to start the whole thing off and to bring us home again at the end. She has no real purpose in the story otherwise. The two grandparents have in interesting trajectory that starts out benign and grows into sinister. I give them all just 2 out of 5 Cast points.

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Transformers: Age of Extinction •1/2

kinopoisk.ruStarring: Mark Wahlberg, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor
Director: Michael Bay
Screenplay: Ehren Kruger
Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 165 minutes
Release Date: June 27, 2014

Cade Yeager & Optimus Prime: Duo, P-P Moral, Pro (Untransformed Family Heroes)

Lockdown: Single, N-N Moral, Ant (Untransformed Pure Evil Villain)


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

Well, Greg, we just survived another Transformers movie.

Let’s find out if any of the heroes underwent a transformation…

The movie begins with scientists discovering that Transformers killed all life on earth 65 million years ago. We also learn that five years ago, Transformers were narrowly defeated in the ‘Battle of Chicago’, which left Transformer debris and technology scattered over North America. Then we meet Texas inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), his beautiful teenage daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz), and his friend Lucas (T.J. Miller). Cade dreams of using abandoned Transformer technology to create inventions that will make his family rich. Meanwhile, his home is being foreclosed, and his daughter is mad at him for being irresponsible and overprotective.

Lucas, unbeknownst to Yeager, has called the Feds because the Transformer they found is Optimus Prime who has a bounty on his head. The CIA is out to destroy all Transformers (both the good Autobots and the evil Decepticons) in favor of a new robotic technology built by the company KSI (assisted by galactic bounty hunter Lockdown). The CIA operatives descend on Yeager’s Texas farm and he, his daughter, and her boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor) are on the run with Optimus Prime and what is left of the Autobots.

Greg, Age of Extinction puts the Stink in Extinction. This is easily among the worst movies of 2014. There are so many problems with the film that I don’t even know where to begin. Let’s start with the obvious: Director Michael Bay clearly worships at the altar of the “More is Better” philosophy of movie-making. It’s the idea that more action, more chase scenes, and longer movies are better. The word that comes to mind to describe this mess rhymes with “cluster-truck”. And yes, we see a lot of trucks in the movie, because of course more is better.

For me, watching this movie was an endurance contest, with millions of my brain cells, already damaged by watching past bad movies, fighting for survival. I’m shocked that Mark Wahlberg agreed to participate in this mess — he’s proven himself to be a skilled actor capable of attracting far better movie roles. In Transformers: Age of Extinction, Wahlberg is reduced to uttering one hackneyed and predictable line after another. For 160 minutes, he’s either being chased by Transformers or protecting his daughter from danger. I felt sorry for him.

I feel your pain, Scott. I was also struggling throughout the nearly 3-hour film to reconcile the multiple plot lines (father/daughter/boyfriend, CIA/alien/Transformer, entrepreneur/inventor, Autobot/alien/Decepticon) with only limited success. If it is any consolation, this is probably the best of the Transformers movies with the addition of Wahlberg over troublesome actor Shia LaBeouf. I’ve sat through all four of these films and it’s clear they appeal to a very specific audience.

The film is too intense for smaller children and a bit too childish for grown adults. It hits its sweet-spot with 13-25 year-old boys and fans of the original Transformers show. It must be a fairly big demographic because over this weekend alone, Transformers brought in about $100 million. It is also on-target to be the first movie to garner $1 Billion in worldwide revenues. There’s no doubt that Michael Bay knew what he was doing with this film. Whether you like the film or not, it reaches its audience and in a big way.

The money this movie will make pains me; it is just so undeserving. Never has a major movie relied on so many tiresome set-ups and situations. There is the damsel in distress, shown in full shameless fashion about 6 dozen times, as poor Tessa needs either her dad or her boyfriend to save her repeatedly. There is the overused idea of government higher-ups conspiring against us all and sticking it to the little guys. There is a little Jar Jar Binks character whose main role is to annoy us even further. There is a 30-second speech that Yeager gives to a bad guy, Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), a speech that miraculously converts Joyce to the good guys’ side.

Let’s examine the quality of the hero’s journey. To me, this film appears to feature a couple of group ensemble heroes:  The Yeagers are a family unit and the Transformer team, led by Optimus Prime, is a police/military unit. You could say that Yeager’s character does evolve, as his hatred for Mary’s boyfriend eventually turns to admiration. This change, of course, is painfully predictable and hardly convincing. Several basic elements of the hero’s journey are here, although they lack depth or interest.

The lead heroes are Yeager and Optimus Prime. Prime is feeling let down by the human race as he came to Earth to save us from the evil Decepticons. Now, he is hunted by humans and he has lost the urge to keep humans safe from their own stupidity. He undergoes a transformation as Yeager pleads with him to help his family and all of mankind. Admittedly, this is a pretty weak story arc. Still it is stronger than what we’ve been fed in previous incarnations of the Transformers cinematic universe.

The villains aren’t much better. We are treated to a good performance by Kelsey Grammer (who, by the way, also appears in Think Like a Man, Too released last week). Grammer’s character is a typical bad guy government bureaucrat who is running the CIA. Like other villains of this type, we don’t get much backstory, only that he is evil. He stereotypically does not get his hands dirty and enlists henchmen to perform his evil-do.

And on the Transformer side of the aisle, there is the evil Lockdown who is an intergalactic bounty hunter. He is also of the pure-evil cast and offers no real counterpoint to Optimus Prime except for an extended robot battle in the climax.

I’m fascinated by the way movies portray the head villain. Grammer’s character, Harold Attinger, plays a stereotypical head mastermind who rarely gets his hands dirty and spends most of his time telling his henchmen what to do. We’ve seen this villainous structure in many other movies. For some reason, filmmakers have decided that while the main hero is going to take bullets, fall from buildings, and get physically battered, the main villain is a central command figure who only strains himself making all those tough evil decisions.

One other word about the Transformers themselves. They are imposing mechanical beasts that serve as yet another example of the movie industry’s fetish for size, especially when it comes to villains. How many behemoths have we seen in the movies this past couple of years? I was struck by the shape of these manly, macho mechanical beasts — they sport massive biceps and pecs and teeny, tiny, almost Barbie Doll waists. Do robots really need to show bulging muscles to do their dirty work?

Scott, you called Transformers the worst movie of the year. You may have forgotten the travesty and complete waste of time that was Transcendence. Or the painfully unfunny Ride Along. Or completely misguided Labor Day. Still, I have to admit Transformers: Age of Extinction certainly does rate down there with them. For an excruciatingly long overdose of robotic chaos I give this film 2 out of 5 Reels.

The heroes are very plain-brown-wrapper and do not stretch our imaginations very far. Wahlberg does a good job of playing the father-who-cares and Optimus Prime “transforms” a bit too. I give them just 2 out of 5 Heroes.

There is no new ground with the villains in this story. The Stanley Tucci character is a Steve Jobs inspired head of corporation who is turned from evil to good. Grammer’s character is right out of the evil government playbook. And Lockdown was not even entertaining. I give these poor sketches of characters just 1 out of 5 Villains.

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Greg, you began this review by pondering whether there was a transformation in the movie. Yes, this is a Transformers movie and so of course there were plenty of transforming events. Chief among them was my transformation from a happy man at the start of the film to a bitter curmudgeon who felt robbed of two and a half hours of his life at the end. A more apt name for this movie is Skunkformers or Trashformers. This movie is borderline Hall of Shame material and barely manages 1 Reel out of 5.

The heroes were wafer-thin, predictable, and uninteresting. Wait, I take that back. There is one interesting character, Lucas Flannery, but he’s killed off early in the film. His quick exit was a portend of things to come. There are elements of the hero journey in this film but they are completely overwhelmed by the relentless onslaught of senseless chase scenes, explosions, and CGI chaos. Your rating of 2 Heroes out of 5 seems about right.

The villains were familiar retreads of villains we’ve seen a thousand times before. I thought Kelsey Grammer did a nice job in his role, but he and Wahlberg were both good actors trapped in a cinematic mess. I’ll agree with you that 1 Villain out of 5 is an accurate rating here.

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