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Molly’s Game •••

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner
Director: Aaron Sorkin
Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin, Molly Bloom
Biography/Crime/Drama, Rated: R
Running Time: 140 minutes
Release Date: December 30, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

 


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

Greg, if you like playing games, Molly was once the go-to person in New York and Hollywood.

 


And like poker, her success is not a matter of luck, but skill. Let’s recap.

 


We meet young Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), a US Olympic hopeful as a skier. Her father (Kevin Costner) pushes her to the limit and beyond to become successful. But Molly suffers a horrible skiing accident and doesn’t make the team. Her plan was to attend law school but she puts those plans on hold to live in Los Angeles employed as Dean Keith’s (Jeremy Strong) personal assistant. One day Keith asks Molly to set up a high-stakes poker game involving some notable Hollywood celebrities.


She’s a quick study and soon learns all the details of high-stakes poker. When her boss threatens to fire her if she doesn’t take a pay cut, she folds her hand – only to start her own poker game – taking her boss’s friends with her. She becomes the toast of the town until one high-value player wants to cut in on her success and he kills the game when she refuses. Out of money and out of luck, she makes her way to the Big Apple to start all over again.


Greg, Molly’s Game caught me by surprise. I wasn’t expecting a story about high-stakes poker to contain such intrigue, depth, and nuance. Molly finds herself in an underground world of rich and powerful men who manipulate others and sometimes self-destruct. She’s drawn there by the allure of money and power, and soon she finds herself spinning out of control with drug addiction and legal problems. She lived on the edge of criminality and crossed the line, yet her intelligence, resilience, and integrity won the day.

Jessica Chastain shines in this film, and I hope she garners some accolades for her portrayal of a smart, complex woman. Her character of Molly Bloom is an ideal hero who possesses nearly all of the Great Eight characteristics of heroes: She is intelligent, strong, reliable, charismatic, caring, selfless, resilient, and inspiring. As in another film, The Post, this story centers on a talented woman trying to navigate her way through a man’s world. Being an attractive woman certainly helped her at times, but at other times she was disrespected and underestimated.


Scott, I’m an outlier in believing this is a rare miss by writer/director Aaron Sorkin. The heart of any story is a compelling hero with whom we sympathize. I found Molly Bloom completely unsympathetic. All of her problems were those she brought upon herself. Sorkin tries to get us to relate to her by showing her uncommon strength in overcoming a debilitating back injury. It’s a good try.

But she knows she’s skirting the law when she runs this game of chance (although she insists it’s a game of skill). She knows the Russian Mafia is involved in the games and anticipates their arrival. Then she gets attacked when she doesn’t play along. Finally, she knows that she cannot skim the pot legally and decides to dip – accumulating $2M illegally. When the FBI commonderes the funds, we’re supposed to feel sorry for her. But I don’t feel sorry for her in any way. She’s responsible for all her problems and I can’t muster any sympathy for her – or for Sorkin’s story.


Greg, no hero is ever perfect, and in fact the basis of the hero’s journey resides in the hero’s ability to achieve redemption by overcoming their inherent flaws. Let’s keep in mind that Molly’s most striking attribute is her integrity, which wins over her initially skeptical attorney (Idris Elba). The best evidence of her integrity is seen in her willingness to serve time in prison rather than disclose information that would harm the families of her poker players. For the most part, she runs her poker business on the up-and-up, boldly navigating her way through a man’s world.

Only toward the end does she succumb to the temptations of drugs and skimming the pot. She atones for these mistakes by becoming drug-free and taking full legal responsibility for her actions. Molly is truly an admirable character whose journey matches the template of Joseph Campbell’s hero monomyth, and she undergoes transformations toward darkness and then back into the light of goodness.


I don’t think she ever redeems herself. Her self-ascribed motive for not naming-names is that she doesn’t want the families of the bad guys to be hurt. Still she created the environment where they squandered millions of dollars. She seems very selective in her morality. So I don’t see much in the way of transformation here.

Molly’s Game is a convoluted, poorly written, and amateurishly directed film by an artist who has done better work – and very like will do better work in the future. Sorkin did not waste one of his good screenplays on his directorial debut, treating this very much like practice for features to come. Fine performances by Idris Elba and Jessica Chastain (and occasional bright spots with Kevin Costner) cannot save this dull piece of work. The ending where all our hero’s problems are attributed to “daddy issues” falls flat. I give Molly’s Game 2 out of 5 Reels.

Molly is a failed hero who, as far as I can tell, has not redeemed herself. All of her problems are her own making, and she is saved only by the kindness of men – Elba’s lawyer takes pity on her to take her case, and the judge ignores the prosecution’s sentencing recommendations and gives her the lightest possible sentence. I don’t see any redemption in her and in my book she is an anti-hero. I give her just 2 Heroes out of 5.

Finally, I cannot find evidence of transformation for anyone in this story. Molly doesn’t seem repentant for her ill-gotten-goods nor does she turn over evidence that would put bad guys away for decades. I saw that Kevin Costner’s character came back at the last moment to psychoanalyze his daughter – so I give him just 1 Delta out of 5.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:


Greg, it’s as if you and I saw a completely different movie. Molly’s Game impressed me with its riveting portrayal of a brave and resilient woman who goes down a hazardous career path, pays the price, and then ultimately redeems herself with a noble act of integrity. Jessica Chastain delivers the best performance of her career here, portraying a flawed hero whose fierce determination, strength, and intelligence serve her very well. This is a smart film that deserves an audience that appreciates tough women operating successfully in a man’s world. I give Molly’s Game 4 Reels out of 5.

Molly’s hero’s journey is highly inspiring. She overcomes a severe injury, and then works hard to evolve from a penniless young woman living far from home into a multi-millionaire. Molly then succumbs to a drug addiction and illegally skimming the pots of her high stakes poker games, and she pays the legal price. Like all good heroes, she receives help from a mentor (her attorney), cleans up her act, and makes choices that reveal her honorable nature — even at great potential cost to her well-being. I award her heroism 4 Hero rating points out of 5.

Molly undergoes several important transformations. First, as a young athlete she undergoes an emotional metamorphosis by growing in her emotional strength and resilience. As a poker entrepreneur, she later learns how the world of big money and celebrity dynamics work. This mental transformation was then followed by a negative physical transformation in the form of drug addiction. Finally, in her legal battles, we witness a moral transformation toward doing the right thing with regard to information that could ruin her former clients’ families. All these transformations earn Molly 4 transformative Deltas out of 5.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:

Star Wars: The Last Jedi •••

Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Mark Hamill
Director: Rian Johnson

Screenplay: Rian Johnson, George Lucas
Action/Adventure/Fantasy, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 152 minutes
Release Date: December 15, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!


Scott, are we about to review the last Star Wars Film?


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

The Force is with us both, Greg. Let’s recap.


The Rebel alliance is attempting to evacuate their base when First Order ships arrive and prepare to blow the base to bits. Pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) lights just off the main ship’s bow and leads an attack on their Dreadnaught class destroyer. They succeed at destroying the ship, but at a great cost losing all their bombers and several fighters. However, it gives the rebels time to evacuate and jump into hyperspace toward their next base.


Meanwhile Kylo Ren, sensing his mother General Leia’s (Carrie Fisher) presence, fails to fire on the resistance’s main ship. Rey seeks to learn the ways of the force from Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who has exiled himself to a remote island. He reluctantly agrees. Rey also begins having telepathic communications with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), whom she believes is redeemable. This belief appears to be corroborated by Ren’s decision to save Rey’s life at the hands of Snoke (Andy Serkis), whom he slays. Ren, however, remains on the dark side.


Scott, I have mixed emotions about The Last Jedi. On the one hand it is a proper sequel to the last film, The Force Awakens, but on the other, it seems like a scattered project that tried to accomplish too much. And with a 150-minute running time, you’d think it would have accomplished all its goals. But it does not. As with the last film, there are echoes of previous episodes which left me feeling as though the story doesn’t really move forward.

There are four distinct plotlines here. The first being the escape of the Resistance to a new base. This is Princess Leia and Poe’s story. The second is the emergence of Rey as a Jedi under the (reluctant) training of Luke Skywalker. The third is the evolution of Kylo Ren into the Master of the First Republic. Fourth and finally is the search for a thief to help Finn and newcomer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) take down the Republic’s main ship.

The first plotline is pretty boring stuff with Poe constantly second-guessing Admiral Holdo’s (Laura Dern) authority. Not much happens here until the end. The training of Rey with Skywalker resembles much of what we saw in The Empire Strikes Back but with intercuts of Rey and Kylo Ren having inter-Force communication. Rey ultimately leaves her training before she’s finished to face Ren because she “feels there is still good in him.” This all feels very much like Empire.


Greg, this is a curious, complicated movie. There is much to like, some to dislike, and much to ponder over. My summative feeling is somewhat positive, but wow, where do we begin with all that is thrown at us in this film? You’ve pointed out the multiple simultaneous plotlines, at times exhilarating but at times delivered in a disjointed manner. There is also the bold move to redefine “the force” as more supernatural than in previous Star Wars incarnations. This cheapens the force, IMHO, yet I admit it’s handled well in the film’s final act when Luke’s magical powers save everyone’s butt.

Luke Skywalker’s persona has radically changed, which may not be terribly surprising as decades have passed since we’ve last seen much of him. Again I see some value in giving him inner conflict but at times I wasn’t sure this was the same character we’ve grown to love. There are also several strange directorial decisions by Rian Johnson. One irritation is his bizarre decision to include dozens of unnecessarily closeup face-shots of Ren and Rey. The film is long and densely packed, a smorgasbord of good and not-so-good Star Wars fare.

Although J.J. Abrams didn’t direct the film, it does have his fingerprints all over it. There is plenty of action and several powerful homages to iconic Star Wars lines involving “the force”, “help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi”, and Yoda uttering reverse sentence structures. So ultimately, we should leave the theater satisfied — assuming we can overlook the many complications.


Star Wars has become less about telling a great story, and more about creating a spectacle. The logic behind the Republic’s ships having to slowly track the Resistance is confusing. This is just a placeholder while action occurs elsewhere. The events on the casino planet have no real impact on the story at hand. But it does introduce a number of colorful characters and exotic animals that will make nice plastic toys at Christmastime.

LIkewise on the island where Luke has self-exiled himself we see very cute little bird-like creatures that have no purpose in the story except to be cute. Very much like the Ewoks. For some reason, these creatures have taken roost on the Millennium Falcon. And there are “caretaker” creatures as well as 4-bosomed sea whales which Luke milks for breakfast. None of these characters play into the plot. They are just part of Star Wars’ world building for the sake of merchandising.


Wow, you really are cynical about the merchandising placements, Greg. To be honest, I hadn’t given this much thought until now, but you may be right. We may agree about this film’s attempt to be a spectacle, and so the big question for us to consider is whether the movie is a spectacle that tells a compelling hero story. We do have heroes undergoing severe trials and transformation, which left me mostly satisfied. We also have the classic Star Wars battle between good and evil, with Kylo Ren filling the void left by the surprising death of Snoke. There’s a bit too much going on but overall the film hits enough classic Star Wars notes to produce a satisfying movie-going experience.


Star Wars: The Last Jedi was an entertaining visual feast – but pretty light fare. Star Wars has increasingly become a franchise for children and the young at heart. There are no morals or messages to take home. Characters seem to appear for little reason other than to fulfill either a gender or ethnic checklist. The story lines seem to have no real purpose other than to create a reason for flash and boom. The original Star Wars trilogy was about the redemption of Anakin Skywalker – a story with mythical proportions. I’m left asking “What is this story about?”

This latest series appears to be an attempt to right a galactic wrong – that of an absence of female characters in the Star Wars universe. As such, we get characters like Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) who does little more than stand in for Admiral Leia while she’s knocked out and to confound pilot man-child Poe by keeping him (and the rest of the Rebel fleet) in the dark about her plans. The men in this universe seem universally dim while all the women seem eternally wise. Just when you think something interesting is going to happen (will Rey and Kylo Ren rule over a new Empire?) – it doesn’t. I can only muster 3 out of 5 Reels for this film.

There are so many lead characters in this story, it’s hard to figure out who I’m supposed to care about. Rey seems to follow Luke’s storyline from Empire Strikes Back and goes to fight the dark side without full Jedi training. Kylo Ren is still impetuous and fighting authority figures – even when he’s the ultimate authority. Poe had no trajectory in this story as his only purpose was to be a loose canon. Finn goes on a merry chase with Rose and has no arc to speak of. Leia spends most of the film sleeping off a vacuum-induced hangover. Rose has the best line of the film – only to find herself unconscious in the end. Luke evaporates for unknown reasons. I can’t get excited about anyone in this film and can barely extend more than 2 Heroes out of 5 and 2 Deltas as well.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:


My impressions of this film are similar to yours, Greg. The Last Jedi is pretty good Star Wars but lacks sufficient cohesiveness and focus to emerge as exemplary Star Wars fare. There are a few bold moves here involving an extension of what has for decades been iconically known as “the force”. Now apparently the force involves extreme magical prowess, which is unfortunate as the force used to connote a more subtle special power that metaphorically endowed all of us with the ability to become the best versions of ourselves. Overall, I was entertained by this movie despite its flaws and I also give it 3 Reels out of 5.

There are plenty of good heroes in this movie and in fact their abundance is a drawback. Still, we are treated to the spicy hero’s journeys of Poe, Luke, Leia, Finn, Rose, and others. These heroes transform in meaningful ways; they grow in their maturity and understanding of themselves, the force, the nature of good and evil, and the world in which they live. Ren and Snoke are also formidable and interesting villains for our heroes to overcome. There’s so much going on at the expense of cohesion that I’ll only award 3 Hero points out of 5 as well as 3 transformative Deltas out of 5.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:

Murder on the Orient Express ••••

Starring: Kenneth BranaghPenélope CruzWillem Dafoe
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Screenplay: Michael GreenAgatha Christie
Crime/Drama/Mystery, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 114 minutes
Release Date: November 10, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

 


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

Greg, it looks like Hercule Poirot took the last train to Clarksville.


Stop monkeying around and let’s review Murder on the Orient Express.


In Jerusalem in 1934, the famed detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is in the process of solving a case. Afterward, he is called on a case in London and must board the Orient Express, slated to leave Istanbul. At first it appears that the train is completely booked but Poirot obtains passage thanks to his friend Bouc (Tom Bateman), who is the director of the Orient Express.


He meets an array of characters, among them gangster Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp) who tries to enlist Poirot as his personal assistant – looking out for anyone trying to do him harm. Poirot declines pointing out that he chooses his company, and he does not want to be in the company of Ratchett. Later that night, Ratchett is found dead in his room with a dozen knife wounds in his chest. Poirot would rather start his vacation, but the game is afoot!


Greg, Murder on the Orient Express is a stylish re-make of two other films based on Agatha Christie’s iconic 1934 novel by the same name. Viewers may need to be fans of the mystery genre to appreciate this film, as there is a lot of talking between Poirot and the dozen suspects of the crime. These conversations are intelligent and witty, and it was fun watching Poirot struggle to put all the pieces together. Kenneth Branagh deserves kudos for bringing Poirot and his ridiculous mustache to life on the big screen once again.

It helps that this re-make is superbly cast. The assortment of colorful characters include Caroline Hubbard played by Michelle Pfeiffer, Hector MacQueen played by Josh Gad, and Gerhard Hardman played by Willem Dafoe. Depp also steps up his game in portraying the sleazy killer whom everyone wants dead. A prominent non-human character in the film is the beautiful yet foreboding Bulgarian mountain range that supplies the avalanche needed to give Poirot time to solve the case.


I had a good time with this film. Unlike other offerings this year, it was not a slam-bam fest. It was a thoughtful, humorous, and enjoyable two hours. Branagh’s Poirot, though, was a very monotone character – rarely raising his voice or even an eyebrow.

It has been a long time since I read “Murder on the Orient Express” in high school, so I didn’t remember the ending. It turns out that all the suspects took a stab at the villain. I was surprised that Poirot let them all go. I suppose it was his guilt at not responding to Armstrong’s letter that swayed him. I feel it made him just as guilty as the rest. But it’s hard to argue with Agatha Christie. I think she took a risk aligning her hero with killers. Perhaps sensibilities were different in the 1930s. But otherwise, Poirot is the classic “competent” hero.


Greg, I’d say you’ve put your finger on the heroic transformation of Poirot, if you could call it that. Remember, he is portrayed as having an OCD perfectionism that requires him to see the world in black-and-white terms. The circumstances of the murder compel Poirot to re-examine his rigidity and recognize the moral grey area surrounding the murder. Ratchett is a despicable man who got away with either killing or ruining the lives of several good people, and while this fact doesn’t excuse the taking of his life, it certainly does mitigate the immorality of the act. Poirot walks away from this grisly affair with a more nuanced understanding of justice, human nature, and human culpability.


Murder on the Orient Express is an enjoyable mystery, true to the original. It was not ambitiously paced which made for a relaxing movie-going experience. It has one of the most original endings of any mystery in history. The star-studded cast delivered and Branagh as Poirot was a treat. I give Murder on the Orient Express 4 out of 5 Reels.

Poirot is Poirot throughout and is the epitome of the “competent” hero. Branagh’s portrayal of Poirot was a bit on the reserved side. While Poirot himself is a reserved character, a few highs and lows would have been appreciated. I give this incarnation of Hercule Poirot 4 out of 5 Heroes.

Transformations are abundant in this film as we watch everyone on the train change from who we thought they were – into who they really were. But no one was particularly changed for the better. I give the perpetrators just 3 out of 5 Deltas.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:


You’ve summed it up nicely, Gregger. Murder on the Orient Express delivers exactly what fans of mystery movies desire, namely, a smart and charismatic detective and an assortment of colorful suspects who supply a mix of intriguing clues. I agree that a rating of 4 Reels out of 5 is a fair assessment.

The hero’s journey is a bit stunted by the fact that Poirot is a recurring character with limited ability to grow or change from his journey. He also lacks good mentors or a love interest. I give his heroism a rating of 3 Heroes out of 5. Poirot does show a slight transformation toward appreciating moral nuance, and Ratchett transforms from alive to dead. The reality is that this genre of film isn’t about transformation, and so I give these characters 2 Deltas out of 5.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:

Flatliners ••

Starring: Ellen Page, Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev
Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Screenplay: Peter Filardi, Ben Ripley
Drama/Horror/Sci-Fi, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 110 minutes
Release Date: September 29, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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

Greg, do you think the brainwaves of movie studio executives have flatlined?


I flat out believe that is the worst one-liner ever. Let’s recap:


A young woman named Courtney (Ellen Page) is driving and texting at the same time with a little girl in the passenger seat. The distraction causes the car to veer out of control and into a river. Nine years later, Courtney is a physician completing her residency at a prestigious hospital. She’s interested in near death experiences and wants to map the area of the brain responsible for these hallucinatory experiences. Enlisting the aid of friends Jamie (James Norton) and Sophia (Kiersey Clemons), Courtney decides to “die” and then get revived while under a CT scanner.


Sophia stops Courtney’s heart and she has an out of body experience. Her friends are so amazed by the happenings that they in turn go through the experiment. But something goes awry. Sophia starts having illusions of someone following her. And her friends see strange things as well. Soon, they realize that they’ve brought something back with them from the great beyond – something they each will have to deal with.


Greg, this modern version of Flatliners had the potential to be something good and worthwhile but it squanders all that potential by taking the cheap and easy route to storytelling. The idea that there may be a realm of conscious existence beyond death is a fascinating concept and deserves serious treatment. This film teases us into believing it might take an earnest look at the topic but instead it devolves into a standard ghost story with an unlikely and unbelievable moral resolution.

There are so many flaws to the movie that I don’t know where to begin. Perhaps the most striking idiocy occurred when all the characters leap to the bizarre conclusion that making amends for their past transgressions will rid them of the ghosts from the afterworld. We never actually see any evidence for this strange form of posthumous justice, but I suppose the idea we’re supposed to swallow is that all bad things happen for reasons that we all have control over. If only the world were this simplistic.


I agree. This film starts out wanting to ask questions about the hereafter, but never attempts to answer them. One suggestion I’ve heard is that part of the “dying process” is to be confronted with your sins and given the opportunity to atone for them. Since our heroes never complete the journey, they bring their sins back with them. I like this point of view, but surely, it is never presented in the film.

The real annoyance here is that there is mounting evidence about near death experiences that are much more interesting than this movie. I think a documentary about the dying brain would be more entertaining than (as you call it), a standard ghost story.


There is a discernable hero’s journey here, with our heroic ensemble departing into a supernatural world. The closest thing we have to a mentor figure in this story is Diego Luna, a more seasoned resident physician who gives warnings about the dangerous nature of his colleagues’ activities. Our heroes appear to be transformed morally as a result of their experiences. Sophia must apologize to a classmate for broadcasting nude pictures of her all over her high school. Jamie must make amends to a former girlfriend whom he impregnated and abandoned. Marlo must admit that she caused a patient’s death. As I’ve mentioned, these moral transformations seem contrived to me.


Yes, while Flatliners is an updated version of the classic, it is no more moving than the original. It was enjoyable as a horror film, but certainly not as good as other horror movies we’ve seen this year. I can only give 2 out of 5 Reels for this film. The heroes are average and go through changes that make them worthy of screentime, but not very exciting. I give them 3 out of 5 Heroes. Finally, this movie is all about transformation of the ensemble heroes. I agree with you that these transformations seem contrived, so I can only award 2 out of 5 Deltas.

 Movie: Transformations: Heroes:


No doubt Flatliners fell flat, Greg. The film had more than a kernel of potential but ruined it by settling for a cheap ghost story with a silly, hollow moral twist at the end. The ensemble cast was likeable and talented but there was no reviving the deadness of this screenplay. I agree that the movie only earns 2 Reels out of 5. We do have a hero’s journey here with some familiar elements such as departure to a dangerous world, encounters with villains, mentorship, and a real, albeit contrived transformation. This movie proves that a scary story needs good storytelling, otherwise the only thing I’m scared of is going to the theater again to see more “scary” fare from these filmmakers. I’ll give our heroes 2 hero points out of 5, and 2 transformation Deltas out of 5, too.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:

Home Again ••

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Michael Sheen, Nat Wolff
Director: Hallie Meyers-Shyer
Screenplay: Hallie Meyers-Shyer
Comedy/Drama/Romance, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 97 minutes
Release Date: September 8, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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Scott, it looks like Reese Witherspoon finds there’s no place like home.


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

Every good hero story is about self-discovery and home-discovery. Let’s recap.


We meet forty-year-old Alice Kinney (Reese Witherspoon) who is separated from her husband Austin who is a music producer. She’s moving back to her childhood home with her two children Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield). Her new home is actually where she grew up with her late father who was a director of some classic films of the 1970s.

We also meet three twenty-something young men Teddy (Nat Wolff), Harry (Pico Alexander), and George (Jon Rudnitsky) who have just won a prize at a film festival. The three have been kicked out of their home for lack of payment. Harry (the director) meets Alice at a bar and they hook up. Long story short, she learns of his dilemma and invites him and his friends to move into the guest house until they get on their feet.


The three young men settle into the guest house and immediately prove themselves to be useful around the house. They also become excellent male role models for Alice’s two young children. The men also begin to get a taste of career success, although there is tension when George begins going solo professionally. Meanwhile, husband Austin misses Alice and makes a surprise visit. Sparks fly when he begins to feel threatened by Teddy, Harry, and George’s presence around Alice and the kids.


Scott, Home Again is a confusing mess. My first and biggest complaint is – why are there three men living in her guest house? That is, the three of these characters could easily have been rolled into one and the story would have been that much simpler to tell and that much easier to follow. Indeed, each of the male characters offers a dimension that Alice admires in a man. I kept thinking to myself – “This is one character with three heads.”

The other complaint I have about this movie is that it is horribly uninteresting. We never get deep enough into any one character’s issues that we care about what is happening to them. It’s a straight line from beginning to end with few twists or turns. When the estranged husband finally shows up, there’s a bit of fisticuffs and then – nothing really happens. This movie is one dull minute after another.


Therein lies the problem, Greg. There isn’t enough material here to sustain a 90-minutes movie, and so the writers split up one character into three parts for the purpose of creating more needless dialogue. We know that one of the men has a fling with Alice; another one loves her but doesn’t act on it, while the third just hangs around to offer observations about what’s happening. Two of the three also begin stealth solo careers that have no bearing on the plot whatsoever but do create needless tension among the three.

This movie tries to match the intelligence and wit of the 2009 movie, It’s Complicated. Both films feature a middle aged woman who gets divorced and is pursued again by her ex, only things are complicated by the fact that the woman is happy being on her own and has another love interest on the side. It’s Complicated benefits enormously from the performances of Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin, whereas Home Again only has Reese Witherspoon — and it isn’t enough.


Home Again is a lackluster portrayal of a middle-aged woman having a fling with a younger man. It doesn’t delve deeply into anyone’s character for us to care whether this works or if it’s moral. Reese Witherspoon is wasted in this film and the direction is haphazard. I give it just 2 out of 5 Reels.

Alice is the lead character in the film and does fairly well as a hero. She’s decent and strong. In the beginning she feels she needs a man to satisfy her needs and in the end realizes that she’s fine by herself and still finds a way to mix her family in a way that everyone benefits. I give her 2 out of 5 Heroes.

And Alice’s transformation from needy and insecure to self-sufficient and secure is clumsily delivered but present nonetheless. I give her transformation 2 out of 5 Deltas.

Movie: Transformation: Heroes:


Home Again is a vanilla ice cream cone that’s sat out in warm air too long. It’s soft and drippy, makes a mess on your hands, and is ultimately unsatisfying. I can see the comedic premise, but then again so did the makers of It’s Complicated eight years earlier, only they did a much better job. This film is a throwaway effort about which the less said the better. I give it (generously) 2 Reels out of 5.

Alice is a strong hero who, like most heroes, receives help from friends and mentors, enabling her to adjust to her new life in California. She’s a good character trapped in bad movie. A rating of 2 Hero points out of 5 seems right to me. Alice’s transformation toward greater self-confidence is notable here, but more important to me is the transformation of her children.

This film underscores how much children benefit from healthy adult role models and support figures. Overall, a Delta score of 2 out of 5 seems right to me.

Movie: Transformation: Heroes:

Atomic Blonde ••1/2

Starring: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman
Director: David Leitch
Screenplay: Kurt Johnstad, Antony Johnston
Action/Mystery/Thriller, Rated: R
Running Time: 115 minutes
Release Date: July 28, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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Well Scott, it looks like her cover is blown: Debbie Harry was a double agent in the late 1980s.

 


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

Wrong “blondie”, Greg. This one is quite nuclear. Let’s recap.


We’re introduced to blonde bombshell Lorraine Broughton. She’s a top spy for MI6 in 1989 and about as hot as Charlize Theron. She’s on a mission: it seems someone has stolen a list of all the secret agents in the Soviet Union and Lorraine has to get them before the KGB does and expose the double agent Satchel to boot.


Upon arrival in Berlin, Lorraine is ambushed by KGB agents but manages to kill them and escape. She meets her main contact in Berlin, David Percival (James McAvoy) who sets her up to be ambushed at a dead agent’s apartment. She survives this incident and then has a brief romantic fling with a French agent there named Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella).


Atomic Blonde is one drawn-out fight scene after another held together loosely by bits of plot. And when I say “bits” I’m not kidding. This is the thinnest plot I’ve ever seen in an action film. Basically, there’s a list of agents (haven’t we seen this a dozen times? Think Mission Impossible) that have to be recovered. But this time, some guy has memorized the list (haven’t we seen this before? Think Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation) and our hero needs to get him from East Berlin to West Berlin (Think Bridge of Spies). The plot wasn’t enough to keep me interested, and unless you enjoy seeing people beating each other to a pulp, you won’t be interested either.


Greg, I was thinking the same thing, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the plot of this film was thin. The plot was just fine. I’d say the movie is a satisfying albeit conventional spy thriller with a nice surprise twist at the end. You’re right that this film is saturated with bloody, bone-crunching, hand-to-hand combat scenes. These fight scenes are as gripping and painfully realistic as we’ve ever seen in the movies. While Charlize Theron’s face and fists are bruised and battered, the rest of her body remains softly feminine and unbruised. We should see welts the size of Mount Rushmore on her.

My wife and I have recently been watching Alfred Hitchcock movies from the 1950s and 60s, and we’re struck by Hitchcock’s emphasis on story and dialogue and by the paucity of violence. Movies today seem to have forgotten that story is the main dish and that action and violence are mere side dishes designed to augment the main entree. Nowadays the chase scenes and fisticuffs are not only the main dish, they seem to take up the entire plate. Atomic Blonde has strong enough story elements that we don’t need to be bombarded with mayhem from start to finish.


Well, Scott, whether we agree on the quality of the story, we’re in agreement on a trend we are seeing in major motion pictures. Filmmakers are opting for spectacle in favor of story. Atomic Blonde is not designed as a thoughtful, emotional experience. It’s more of a visual feast. We see this in other films as well. The Transformers franchise is a good example. The movie theater is becoming a place to see big films filled with visuals that don’t impress on the small screen. Meanwhile, stories with long story lines and deep characters are finding a home on television. The movie theater is, more and more, becoming an amusement park ride.


There is certainly a hero’s journey worth mentioning, although it lacks a few key elements. Lorraine is sent to Berlin and discovers it to be a hornet’s nest. She is tested in many big ways, and also finds a key love interest. She encounters villains and relies on implicit mentors from the past who trained her well in the art of lethal killing and self-defense. I don’t see much of a transformation here, as the main point of the film is to offer a blood-splattered spy story. Lorraine remains untransformed, a superhero who has superheroic powers from start to finish.


Atomic Blonde is entertainment for those who enjoy fisticuffs. The soundtrack was good if you’re a fan of 80’s new wave (which I am). But, after enjoying the synchrony between song and story in Baby Driver, this film’s use of music is much more uncoordinated background noise than soundtrack. I give Atomic Blonde 2 out of 5 Reels.

As a hero, Lorraine does alright. She’s smart and strong and easy to look at. But she doesn’t reveal many other redeeming qualities. I give her 2 out of 5 Heroes. And as you point out, there isn’t much in the way of transformation for anyone in this film. I can only muster 2 Deltas out of 5.

Movie: Heroes: Transformations:


I pretty much agree with you, Greg, except that I found that amidst all the mayhem and bloodshed in Atomic Blonde, there was a decent story to sink one’s teeth into. Charlize Theron shines in this ass-kicking role, and I liked the surprise ending quite a bit. I award this film 3 Reels out of 5.

I’ve already mentioned the deficits in the hero’s journey and I’d also like to add one other caveat on the topic of gender and heroism. Although Atomic Blonde is to be commended for featuring a woman in a strong heroic role, it is also true that it is a hyper-masculine role. You may recall that a strength of Wonder Woman was its emphasis on androgenous heroic leadership, i.e., heroism that contains elements of both agency (masculinity) and communality (femininity). Not to get on my soap box, but this world needs softer, gentler heroism from both its male and female protagonists. And yes, I admit that it’s probably unfair of me to point this out in the context of a film with a woman hero, as it is certainly a criticism of almost all movies, not just this one.

So regarding my hero rating, I’ll give Lorraine 3 Hero points out of 5. We both acknowledge that transformation was not the point of the story here, and so I’ll agree with you, Greg, that all these main characters deserve is a measly 2 transformative Deltas out of 5.

Movie: Heroes: Transformations:

War for the Planet of the Apes ••1/2

Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn
Director: Matt Reeves
Screenplay: Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves
Action/Adventure/Drama, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 140 minutes
Release Date: July 14, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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

Greg, it appears the apes have learned, “War, what is it good for?”


Andy Serkis returns as Caesar – it looks like another Serkis show. Let’s recap:


Caesar (Andy Serkis), the leader of the ape clan, is deep in the forest but under siege from frequent attacks by a human army called Alpha-Omega. During one attack, he captures several soldiers and learns that a dangerous Colonel (Woody Harrelson) is hellbent on destroying the apes. As a goodwill gesture, Caesar releases the soldiers. During the next attack, however, Caesar’s wife Cornelia (Judy Greer) and son Blue Eyes (Max Lloyd-Jones) are killed. Caesar is infuriated and sets out alone to kill the Colonel.


But his closest friends won’t let him go alone. The four of them happen upon a man who tries to kill them and they kill him instead. Back in his hut is a mute young girl who joins them on their trek. It’s not long before they find Colonel’s base. One of the turncoat apes tells Caesar that Colonel and his team have trekked off to a detention base where they are going to meet another army troupe. So, Caesar, his three friends, and a tagalong little girl start their journey to intercept and kill the Colonel.


Greg, once again we’re faced with the task of reviewing a movie that’s a tiny slice of a larger story arc. For me, this makes evaluation of the film difficult. If we consider this movie individually, solely on its own merits, it is less than satisfying. There are long, drawn out scenes devoted to character development. These scenes are effective in that regard, and in the context of the larger whole (i.e., the complete Ape franchise) these scenes are probably necessary for good storytelling. But they make this installment of the franchise a slow slog at times.

For now, let me focus on the positives. War for the Planet of the Apes does succeed is offering up stunning cinematography and remarkable CGI effects. These talking, intelligent apes are more realistic than ever, and scenes involving snowy mountain vistas and fiery battle scenes are breathtaking. As with previous Planet of the Apes films, I applaud the portrayal of variations within complex groupings of apes and humans, as well as the depiction of myriad leadership processes. The social psychology here oozes with riveting realism.


Scott, I thought this film failed on nearly every level. The only thing they got right was the ability to give Caesar (and not many else) great facial emotion. But the rest of the CGI was dialed in. In the prequels to this film, we can see ape hairs fluttering in the wind. But in War the ape hairs look like they are matted down with wax. There are scenes where an ape is walking around in the background. And you can nearly see the green screen outline.

The story is nothing short of ridiculous. Take, for instance, the fact that Harrelson’s Colonel tries to kill Caesar in the first act. Then in the second act, when Caesar is in his concentration camp, he keeps him alive. The only reason for this is so that Caesar can give a rousing speech and make the apes revolt for food and water. Colonel should have killed Caesar right away.

And why did Caesar and friends take on a tagalong little girl? And after the apes killed her father, why would she have anything but hatred for them? And apparently the only reason Bad Ape gives her a gift is so that one of the apes can name her “Nova” – because that makes everything come full circle. This was nothing short of a “stitcher” movie designed to make all the loose ends of previous films come to a conclusion – by hook or by crook. It didn’t need to make sense, it only needed the end to come back to the beginning.


I do agree that this film goes to great lengths to make humans look bad and apes look good. The humans are portrayed as monolithically evil, and this point is hammered home when a soldier that Caesar freed earlier is the one who delivers the death blow to Caesar. The apes are far more heterogeneous, and Caesar is a far wiser and more merciful leader than the bloodthirsty Colonel. So that’s why Caesar and friends take the girl with them — to show us that they have a heart so that we’ll root for them.

Another problem with the story is the remarkably convenient avalanche that wipes out all the surviving humans at the end. Yes, we’re happy that the good guys (the apes) survived their ordeal, but for survival to hinge on a freakish act of nature rather than on cunning or courage from our heroic apes, well, that left a bad taste in my mouth. Another absurdity at the end was the (again) convenient placement of enormous fuel tanks all around the defense perimeter of the fort. That sure made Caesar’s task of blowing up the place easy.

This year we’re evaluating the hero’s story and the hero’s transformation. As this movie is a mere slice of a larger whole, there isn’t much to go talk about. This suggests to me that these large, multi-movie arcs need to be binge-watched to be fully appreciated. Caesar transformed the most in the first installment of this franchise, slightly more in the second installment as he ascended into leadership, but here there isn’t much growth for Caesar. If anything, he regresses to adopting a Koba mentality, which is hardly heroic.


You’re right, Caesar falls into a revenge plot and it makes him look bad. But the good news is that his surrounding friends look even more heroic. Caesar does come away looking like a strong leader. And he event looks a bit like a martyr at times. But you’re right, Scott – there’s little transformation for him in this film, or for anyone else.

War for the Planet of the Apes has only one mission – to tie together the beginning and the ending of the series. It does so leaving visible seams. There are long meaningless scenes where little happens but Caesar looks into the camera. There are excruciatingly long scenes where someone explains everything in the movie. Notably, the villain exposition by the Colonel goes on for five minutes and is basically a recap of a movie we’ll never see. I was bored to tears. I give War for the Planet of the Apes 2 out of 5 Reels.

Caesar demonstrates few heroic qualities. He kills with impunity. He wants revenge on the man who killed his family and that blinds him making good decisions. He puts his trusted friends into danger. I didn’t find him interesting or sympathetic. I can only give him 2 out of 5 Heroes.

There are no real transformations to speak of. Caesar doesn’t come to any conclusions about humans and apes. He leads his people out of the mountains and into a valley where he leaves them to live beyond the reach of the humans. I can only muster 2 Deltas out of 5.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes: 


War for the Planet of the Apes works quite well as part of a larger story arc but fails to satisfy on its own 2-hour merits. I appreciated the attempt to slow down the action for the purpose of developing character depth. Some viewers, such as you, Greg, and to some extent myself as well, may find the slow pace to be burdensome to endure. After writhing through many of this summer’s high-octane action movies, I welcomed this slower pace to some degree. Still, this film suffers from improbable and convenient occurrences at the end to resolve the hero’s mission. Overall, the best I can do is award this movie 3 Reels out of 5.

The hero’s journey is but a mere slice of a larger story arc. Caesar sets out to avenge his family members’ deaths, a rather dubious hero’s mission, but he does defeat the bad guys and save many ape lives along the way. He also rediscovers his compassion and wisdom from watching the actions of a young girl whom he rescues. Caesar’s leadership is mostly inspired, and for that reason I can award him 3 Hero points out of 5.

Regarding transformation, Caesar does show some regression and negative influence from his departed friend Koba, but Caesar’s true heroic colors come to the fore in the end when he does right by sparing the Colonel’s life. These changes in Caesar are rather mild but they are there, and I’ll thus give him 3 transformation Deltas out of 5.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:

Rough Night ••

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon, Zoë Kravitz
Director: Lucia Aniello
Screenplay: Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs
Comedy, Rated: R
Running Time: 101 minutes
Release Date: June 16, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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

Greg, was it kind of rough watching this next movie?


It was truly a “rough night” for me sitting in the theater waiting for this movie to end. Let’s recap:


We meet four women who ten years earlier were hard-partying college friends at George Washington University. Their names are Jess (Scarlett Johansson), Alice (Jillian Bell), Blair (Zoë Kravitz), and Frankie (Ilana Glazer). The four are now planning a weekend of debauchery to celebrate Jess’s impending marriage to Peter (Paul W. Downs). A male stripper arrives at their rented beach house, and when Alice jumps on top of the man, his head hits the fireplace hearth, killing him


Hilarity ensues as Australian friend Pippa (Kate McKinnon) joins the crew and the women decide to hide the body – because if there’s no body, there’s no murder. They try to dispose of the body in the ocean only to find that they’ve been recorded on security cameras. Meanwhile, Peter and his straight-laced buddies are having a wine-tasting bachelor party. Jess phones Peter and he misunderstands her to say that the engagement is off. So he packs a load of disposable diapers, Red Bull, and ADHD meds and makes an all-night trip to Florida to save his marriage.


Greg, I wish hilarity had ensued. All that ensued for me was disappointment. Clearly this film showcases a lot of talent in the form of Kate MCKinnon, Scarlett Johansson, Jillian Bell, and several others, not to mention a good director and writing team. Yet the final product is reminiscent of Adam Sandler’s lesser movies. Many IQ points were lost in the viewing of this film, and if that comes across in my review here, then I apologize. This movie is a giant underachievement from which I’m still recovering.

Recently, I gave a negative review to a similar movie, Snatched, starring Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn. Self-honesty demands that I ask myself whether I have a prejudice against female comedy ensembles. I hope not. My goal is to be ill-disposed toward bad comedies, regardless of gender. Looking back at my reviews of the latter Hangover movie installments and Adam Sandler throwaways, I think it’s pretty clear that I hate any bad comedy that relies solely on raunchiness for humor.


I think we differed on Snatched, Scott, but we agree on this film. Just because a film is written, directed, and stars a majority female cast does not automatically make it a great film. The writing team of Lucia Aniello and  Paul W. Downs have done hilarious work on “Broad City.” That series showcased the comedic talents of Abbi Jacobson and  Ilana Glazer (Glazer plays Frankie in this film) and is regarded as one of the great situation comedies of recent years and a landmark in female comedy. Rough Night has none of that.

I’m also perplexed by Kate McKinnon as an actress. She’s great in SNL’s sketch comedy. She creates weird and wonderful characters. But in both Rough Night and last year’s Ghostbusters, she created a throwaway character who is an outsider from the ensemble. I fully believe that if the Aussie character of Pippa had been removed from Rough Night no one would have noticed. It’s almost as if she were brought in at the last minute and just told to mug at the camera.


At least this movie attempts to show personal growth among the characters. While dealing with the crisis of how to dispose of a dead body, Jess and Alice work out the angst of their friendship. Jess evolves from being a deadly dull political candidate who no one wants to vote for to being the cool hip candidate whom everyone loves.

As a result of this ordeal, Jess and her boyfriend Peter also experience a deepening of their commitment to each other. Alice and the cop stripper each realize they’re looking to settle down and they begin to fall in love. We also saw significant transformations in Snatched, another movie that I disliked, which proves that transformation is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for good storytelling.


I felt the ensemble cast was well constructed. Everyone had something they wanted. Alice wanted to regain her partying days from College. Frankie and Blair had an underlying romantic interest. And Jess wanted to enjoy herself away from the hassles of the campaign. Each character had a personality flaw that needed addressing. And they all learned something in the end. Except Pippa. She didn’t seem to transform anyone, be transformed by anyone, learn anything, or solve any problems.

For a dull, predictable, penis-filled 120 minutes I can only garner 2 Reels out of 5 for Rough Night. The ensemble heroes were adequate but not exciting. I give them just 2 Heroes out of 5. And the transformations were tacked on for good show. Just 2 Deltas out of 5.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:


You’ve pretty much summed up my sentiments, Greg. Rough Night is a ‘tough blight’ on the film industry, a silly, inconsequential, and not-so-funny comedy that wasted the talents of its cast and wasted my time in the theater — although I did enjoy eating my cookie-dough bites. The less said, the better, really, so let’s just give be generous and give this movie 2 Reels, 2 Heroes, and 2 transformation Deltas out of 5. Let’s hurry onto the next movie, please!

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

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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


scott
(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:

Everything, Everything •••1/2

Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Nick Robinson, Anika Noni Rose |
Director: Stella Meghie
Screenplay: J. Mills Goodloe,  Nicola Yoon
Drama/Romance, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 96 minutes
Release Date: May 19, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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Scott, if you had everything in the world, where would you put it?


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

The Everly Brothers once sang, “Every thing, Every where, Every time.” Let’s recap.


We’re introduced to young Maddy (Amandla Stenberg). She has Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID) and hasn’t left the house since she was three years old. That’s when her brother and father were killed in an automobile accident. Now, she’s celebrating her 18th birthday when something special happens: a cute young man named Olly (Nick Robinson) moves in next door. They strike up a relationship over text messages and begin to fall in love.


Maddy and Olly arrange to meet in person, without Maddy’s mother’s permission. Soon they kiss, and shortly thereafter Maddy runs outside her home to comfort Olly after the boy has a violent run-in with his father. Maddy gets sick briefly but recovers. She realizes that she can’t avoid life and love forever, and so she applies for credit cards and arranges for her and Olly to go on a secret vacation to Hawaii. Maddy gets sick there, too, but soon the truth about her illness is revealed and forever changes her life.


Scott Everything, Everything is based on the popular young-adult novel by the same name. We’ve seen many YA books translated to film with great results that appeal to both young and old. Sadly, EE does not fall into that category. EE is very simplistic in its dealing with disease, loss, isolation, and betrayal. This is more an “Afterschool Special” made for TV than a full cinematic presentation. I was very disappointed.

As a case in point, Maddy seems very happy and well-adjusted in her closed-off world. She doesn’t seem to yearn for the outside life. After having spent her entire life within the same 4 walls, you’d expect that she’d have a pretty big case of cabin fever. And, she’s never had a crush of any sort. With her access to the internet and social media, I would expect her to have at least had an online romance. But she seems perfectly happy to create her scale models of diners and buildings as part of her architectural studies. I found it all a bit too simplistic.


I guess I’ll be the contrarian here. Greg, Everything, Everything won my heart. How could anyone not love these two kids who fall in love and face seemingly impossible odds of their relationship working? The only possible criticism of this movie is that our two romantic leads are just a bit too perfect, too good-looking, and too well-adjusted. Given Maddy’s isolation from the world, you’d think she’d be more socially awkward, and given Nick’s violent father, you’d think he’d have some dark baggage for the audience to see. But even with the implausibility of these hyper-perfect kids, I was drawn into the story and was moved deeply.

True, the film does have a made-for-TV feel, and yes, it’s a simple love story that won’t win any awards for originality. Yet I couldn’t help detect the metaphorical significance of Maddy’s SCID disease. I believe that many people today, Millennials especially, have trouble “connecting” with people due to self-inflicted barriers to intimacy. I suspect that a lot of viewers of this film can relate to feeling separated from others and feeling unable to find love. It’s no coincidence in this movie that the barriers to love are dismantled once they are discovered to originate from the corrupt older generation, a theme we’ve seen in many YA dystopian future movies such as Hunger Games and Divergent.


The two characters represent a romantic duo. But the story is clearly Maddy’s. It’s all about her isolation, her new-found love, and her ultimate ambition to escape the confines of her home. Olly is the catalyst for her journey and in many ways a mentor to her as she reaches out to a world beyond her jail. She starts out naive and ultimately learns a difficult secret. She’s a good hero – but not great. She has no flaws that we can see. She’s beautiful, polite, refined, obedient, and just too perfect. To be relatable, we need heroes to have some flaws.


Good hero stories usually feature heroes who transform in significant ways. In this film Maddy does grow socially and emotionally. She also acquires an important insight about her mother, a painful mental transformation she must undergo. Olly grows in similar ways but we’re not as privy to his transformations.

In our last book, Reel Heroes & Villains, we noted that one thing that separates heroes from villains is that heroes transform but villains don’t. Everything, Everything provides ample evidence of this distinction. The film’s villain, Maddy’s mother, does not see the light and in fact cannot see the light. She needlessly imprisons her daughter and never becomes enlightened about the cruelty of her actions. She remains stuck in an untransformed state.


Everything, Everything is The Boy in the Plastic Bubble for a new generation. It also resembles another film: The Space Between Us. EE is very light fare made for the younger viewers in the audience – especially young girls. It treats Maddy’s situation and illness with a light touch and so is appropriate for that group. I give Everything, Everything 3 out of 5 Reels.

Maddy is a bit too perfect in every way. She undergoes a great transformation from acquiescing to her mother’s every whim, to becoming a full adult and making decisions for herself. The realization at the film’s end – where Maddy learns that her mother made up her illness – is a devastating moment for her and a stark illustration of how fragile trust is. I wish that Maddy were a more realistic character, so I give her just 2 out of 5 Heroes.

There’s not a lot of transformation other than for Maddy in this film. Olly is pretty much who Olly is all throughout. And the other ancillary characters are mere shadows. I can only muster 2 out of 5 transformation Deltas for Maddy’s transformation.

Movie: Transformation: Heroes:


I’ll acknowledge some of the weakness of this film that you point out, Greg. Yet the bottom line for me is that Everything, Everything moved me at a deep emotional level, despite the flaws we’ve identified. This movie tugs at our heartstrings in telling a timeless tale of unrequited love, and in doing so it evokes strong emotional payoffs. I give the film 4 Reels out of 5.

Our two romantic heroes go on a classic hero’s journey and help each other grow socially, mentally, and emotionally. These heroes possess most if not all of the qualities in the “great eight’ traits of heroes: they are smart, strong, reliable, resilient, charismatic, caring, selfless, and inspiring. I award our heroes 3 Hero rating points out of 5.

As I’ve noted, both our heroes help each other grow and transform in significant ways. Moreover, we sadly see that Maddy’s mother suffers the fate of most villains in good storytelling. She remains stuck and in denial, thus forever untransformed. The lesson is clear here and in all good stories — unless you are willing to grow and change, you risk either painful stagnation or, worse, a harmful regression that poisons hearts and relationships. I award these characters 3 transformation Deltas out of 5.

Movie: Transformation: Heroes: