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Ocean’s Eight ••1/2

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway
Director: Gary Ross
Screenplay: Gary Ross, Olivia Milch
Action/Comedy/Crime, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 110 minutes
Release Date: June 8, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!


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

Greg, we just reviewed a very watery film called Adrift — is Ocean’s Eight a sequel?


No, it’s proof that eight woman can do the work of eleven men. Let’s recap.


We learn that Danny Ocean’s younger sister, Debbie (Sandra Bullock), has been granted parole. She has big plans to steal a $150 million Cartier necklace, but she needs to assemble a team. Debbie recruits her former partner in crime, Lou (Cate Blanchett), and the two convince big-time celebrity Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) to wear the necklace at a fancy gala dinner. Debbie then manipulates the man who sent her to jail, Claude Decker (Richard Armitage), into being Daphne’s date.


Debbie and Lou recruit a rag-tag fugitive team of women including a street-wise pickpocket, an aging down-on-her-luck fashion designer and a computer whiz-kid. They make their plan to drug Daphne who must go into the lady’s room where the pickpocket will remove the necklace and stash it on a platter destined for the kitchen. Hilarity ensues when things don’t go as planned.


Greg, Ocean’s Eight is a serviceable heist story with the much-needed and long overdue involvement of a team of women doing the heisting. Clearly, these ladies are a team of anti-heroes, and I’m going to shamelessly plug our 2015 book, Reel Heroes & Villains, in which we discuss ensemble teams serving as either heroes or anti-heroes in the movies.

Sandra Bullock’s character is the clear leader of the team and star of this film. Her character is satisfying in some ways and not so satisfying in others. We like her because she has at least five of the “great eight” traits of heroes – she’s smart, strong, resilient, charismatic, and inspiring. She’s been wronged in the past and is out for revenge, and if revenge means becoming a multi-millionaire in the process, so much the better. What is unsatisfying from a hero’s journey perspective is that she doesn’t change at all; she’s essentially the same clever, devious person at the end of this story as she was at the beginning. And maybe that’s by design. Still, a point we’ve hammered home for years is that good hero or anti-hero stories involve character transformation.


I have to say that I enjoyed this movie in part because it wasn’t all about girl-power. It was about a cadre of people who worked together for a common goal. The fact that they were all women was only incidental to the plot. So, it wasn’t as much as a cause film as it was a heist. And, as it was written by the same guy who brought us the other Ocean’s movies, it held up pretty well.

Having said that, there was a distinctly feminine slant to this story. Our heroes are after jewels, they have to dress up for a gala, and there’s a revenge subplot for Debbie’s old lover. There are also a dozen or so cameos from the world of fashion. These are all themes that appeal to a female audience. Still, it was a very entertaining heist movie regardless of your gender persuasion.


Ocean’s Eight has pretty much everything you’d want to see in a large-scale heist movie, and while the film is well-made, the fact that we’ve seen all this before in previous oceanic movies works against it. I did enjoy witnessing the dark side of Sandra Bullock — seeing her evil nature at work is equivalent to seeing Tom Hanks in a diabolical role. She’s very good at deceiving the parole board and pretty much everyone else in the movie. In all, this film deserves a rating of 3 Reels out of 5.

Our hero ensemble team is good, but to be honest, other than Sandra Bullock’s character, most of the team is pretty forgettable — with the exception of Helena Bonham Carter as the eccentric Rose Weil who bamboozles Daphne. These heroes don’t change in any meaningful way as a result of their journeys; they merely do their jobs and walk away with millions. We end up admiring their craftiness but little else. I award them 2 Hero points out of 5.

There are a few notable archetypes, such as the irredeemable villain/anti-hero, and a tech nerd kid who magically solves the problem of the necklace’s magnet fastener. Bullock plays a great mastermind anti-hero, and the insurance detective does his best Columbo archetype impression. All told, the archetypes are fairly meager, earning them just 2 Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


I’m pretty much in agreement on all counts, Scott. This was a fun movie, but things went a little too well for my tastes. There was never really a time when the plan seemed in jeopardy. Nobody ever seemed in danger of getting caught. And the twist ending, while a surprise, didn’t really satisfy. I award Ocean’s Eight just 2 out of 5 Reels.

This is a classic anti-hero pattern where our heroes are not on the right side of the law, but we are pulling for them to win. The introduction of the ‘villain’ or ‘opposition’ character of insurance investigator John Frazier (James Corden) was a little odd. He didn’t come in until nearly the end and claimed not to be interested in arresting anyone, only in getting the jewels back. Otherwise, there wasn’t a true oppositional character which made the film a little flat. I give these characters just 2 out of 5 Heroes.

As for archetypes, I think you’ve covered it pretty well. I give them just 2 Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Adrift •••

Starring: Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin, Grace Palmer
Director: Baltasar Kormákur
Screenplay: Tami Ashcraft, Aaron Kandell
Action/Adventure/Drama, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 96 minutes
Release Date: June 1, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!


Scott, will you cast me adrift if I write a bad review?


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

Greg, your reviews are always bad. Bad-ass, that is. Let’s recap.


We’re introduced to young Tami (Shailene Woodley) who is a drifter – finding rides on whose-ever boat will take her. She’s landed on Tahiti where she meets Richard (Sam Claflin) – a sailor with his own boat. They quickly fall in love with plans to sail around the world. But first, old friends of Richard’s offer his a sweet deal. The old friends have to fly back to the states to a funeral, so they need Richard and Tami to sail their boat, the Namaste back to California in exchange for first class tickets home.


Naturally, they encounter a storm. It is a humongous storm that nearly tears their boat apart and appears to leave Tami alone and slightly injured. She’s devastated that Richard is not on board and looks longingly for him with her binoculars. But there is nothing but the cruel ocean surrounding her. Finally, she sees Richard clinging to a dinghy and brings him on board. Or does she?


Adrift is a great vehicle for Shailene Woodley who very much looks like a drifter/sailor. The story unfolds in a series of flashbacks which start with Tami on the open seas trying to lash down her sails. Then we flash back to where she first comes to the island and meets Richard. The film then flips back and forth between the events leading up to the terrible storm, and the events after the storm. It’s a great construct for this movie as it puts both the worst part of the storm and Tami’s rescue at the climax of the film. This makes for a very satisfying resolution.

This is in two parts the story of Tami and Richard falling in love, and the heroic efforts of Tami to save herself and her critically wounded lover Richard. It shows Tami as a resourceful, competent, and strong woman fighting the tides of nature. She has to make decisions that could mean life or death for them both. I was engaged from beginning to end.


Greg, Adrift is Gravity set in the ocean rather than in space. Moviegoers may recall that in Gravity, Sandra Bullock is set adrift in space and conjures up the illusion of George Clooney to help her through her ordeal. Adrift shows us basically the same idea, with Tami inspired by the ghostly presences of Richard to buoy her spirits. What makes Adrift more special than Gravity is that Adrift is a true story.

The movie works on the strength of the illusion that Richard has survived, albeit barely, the accident at sea. I suppose we could be cynical about another film portraying a woman in “need” of a man to survive, but I don’t think that would be the correct take-home message of this story. The right interpretation is that Tami is a fiercely strong woman who survives for 41 days alone on a boat and acquires enough food, water, tenacity, and resourcefulness to make it to Hawaii on her own. This is true survival-heroism at its finest. Like Gravity, we are denied seeing how our hero delivers her gift or “boon” to society after her survival story, but it’s not unusual for Hollywood to cut corners by not giving us the full hero’s journey.


I think you’ve summed it up pretty nicely, Scott. Except, especially in this based-on-a-true-story movie, the “boon” is the story of survival itself. We’re treated to an uplifting and empowering story of a woman surviving against all odds. And, unlike Gravity, the fact that Tami lives to tell the tale is exposed in the story itself. It may be both “meta” and self-referential, but this odyssey is it’s own reward. I give Adrift 3 out of 5 Reels.

Tami is the ultimate heroic figure. She’s competent, strong, resourceful, virtuous, and loyal. As any good hero would do, she has to find a way to save herself and Richard. She even gives up on her vegetarianism to eat fish to survive. I give Tami 5 out of 5 Heroes.

Richard as MENTOR is an interesting character too. We aren’t aware of it as the movie unfolds, but he was actually lost at sea. His character is there to offer support and consolation. But, wounded as he is, he never lifts a finger to help and he never tells Tami what she must do to survive. This is all Tami’s story from beginning to end. There aren’t that many other archetypes in this story since it’s mostly about Tami and Richard. I give them 3 out of 5 Arcs.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


I’d say we’re on the same page here, Gregger. Adrift is worth watching on the strength of Shailene Woodley, who shows off her acting chops with a great range of emotion in this film. This film is at once a love story, a love tragedy, and a clinical study of survival in a situation where no one has any business surviving. That this is a true story is inspiring and illuminating about the human spirit. I also award this movie 3 Reels out of 5.

The hero’s journey is monumentally difficult for Tami at both a physical and psychological level. This is one tough woman who does whatever it takes to do the next right thing for herself and in response to her dire situation. Was Richard really needed for her to survive her ordeal? I’d say we all rely on memories of loved ones from our past who gave us strength and instilled us with self-confidence. In this sense, yes, Richard’s mentorship works. I give Tami’s heroism a rating of 4 Heroes out of 5. With regard to archetypes, there isn’t a whole lot going on here, but then again showing off archetypes was not the point of this movie. I award it 2 Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Blockers ••1/2

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

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


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

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

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

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes: