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Avengers: Infinity War •••

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo
Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Screenplay: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Action/Adventure/Fantasy, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 149 minutes
Release Date: April 27, 2018


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

Greg, if there can be an infinity war, can there be an infinity peace?


Only if we have an infinity of time – and the stones to do it… Let’s recap:

Thanos and his henchmen have just obtained the Power Stone and are now plotting to acquire the 5 remaining sacred stones. Doing so will give Thanos (Josh Brolin) complete rule over the universe. Sure enough, Thanos obtains the Space Stone from Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Meanwhile, Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) warns Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) of Thanos’ plan to kill half the population of the universe once he realizes his goal of acquiring all the stones.

Fearing for the Mind Stone embedded in Vision’s (Paul Bettany) head, Captain America (Steve Rogers, Chris Evans) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) appear in Paris to assist Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) in fighting off more of Thanos’ helpers. Meanwhile, Thor is found alive among the debris of his ship by the Guardians of the Galaxy. Now the fight is on to prevent Thanos from getting his hands on all the Infinity Stones and decimating the universe’s population.

Greg, this movie exhausted me. Yes, it’s a triumph of sorts, weaving dozens of super beings into a story about saving the universe. But my goodness, what a clusterfuck. For 150 minutes we’re subjected to one fight scene after another, after another. A cacophony of characters and physical mayhem, it’s a wet dream for people with ADHD, and it left my brain bleeding.

There are so many questions that need answering. Why do these magical creatures bother punching each other when they are impervious to punches? They slam each other into skyscrapers when they know their adversaries are immune to the ill-effects of such slamming. These super-peeps can be impaled, crushed, and mangled yet bounce right back up with only a slight cut on their forehead. They withstand every kind of physical abuse and we watch them pound each other to smithereens ad nauseum. What is the point?

The other problem that this film shares with many others is the problem of “superpower convenience”. When the plotline demands it, a seemingly invulnerable good guy or bad guy will suddenly show a vulnerability, or the reverse will happen, with a previously established super-strength from someone disappearing conveniently because the story demands it.

If I overlook these issues, and the problem of film-length (always my pet peeve), then we have an extremely large-scale good versus evil superhero movie. Our heroes must work together to stop Thanos from obtaining all 6 infinity gemstones, which would give him dominion over the universe. I like Thanos as a villain; he’s a morally ambiguous dude, a guy with good intentions but a questionable game-plan. But Thanos cannot rescue this frenetic mess of a film.

We’re in basic agreement, here Scott. However, in true Marvel fashion, they managed to get a dozen major stars and their characters in one movie – and no egos were bruised. Everyone gets screen time. Everyone gets great dialog. All the heroes are equals. It’s a monumental task and the writers delivered a coherent, albeit bloated, movie.

Having said that, this is just one immense battle scene after another. When you strip away all the explosions and fisticuffs, there’s not much of a story here. And since we’ve had introductions to all the major heroes in the story (through their own franchised films), the only character who has any depth is the villain – Thanos.

And what a villain, indeed. Thanos believes the universe is overpopulated. (Which is never substantiated in ANY way in this story. AND, it appears that Thanos is aware of UNIVERSAL problems when GALACTIC problems are not made clear. I would have preferred that Thanos’ goal were to cure the galaxy of overpopulation. The universe is a pretty big place.) Thanos is given the option of trading the one thing he loves (his daughter Gamora) for the Soul Stone.

This is a huge deal. Thanos is not a PURE EVIL character after all. He cares about his planet enough to take initiative to save half the population. And he actually loves his daughter. But he loves the universe enough to “give his only begotten daughter” to save it. This is the stuff of heroes to certain ways of thinking. As we mention in our book Reel Heroes and Villains – the villain often thinks he is the hero of the story. Thanos fits this to a tee.

Infinity War is a triumph of sorts but it falls victim to the mentality of “more is more” when we all know that “less is more”. My fear is that the billion-dollar success of this film will open the door to many more movies of this type, movies with too many characters, too many explosions, and too many illogical fight scenes. I am hoping that the DC Comic universe will not follow suit, but the cynic in me suspects that Infinity War has ushered in a new era of the bloated superhero movie. I give this film 2 Reels out of 5.

There are many, many heroes here trying to stop Thanos and his hench-army. There isn’t much of a journey to speak of, not much going on  in terms of character development, and not much indication of hero attributes to discuss (other than super-strength). As such, I give this humongous ensemble of heroes a rating of 2 Hero points out of 5.

In terms of archetypes, there is much more to talk about. Superhero movies are replete with archetypes of power, strength, and hyper-masculinity. Greg, you’ve nicely pointed out the archetype of sacrifice — Thanos’s daughter must be sacrificed and half the universe must be sacrificed, all presumably in the name of promoting the greater good. These and other archetypes earn this film 4 Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Infinity War would have been a nice cap on the Avengers franchise, but based on the ending credits easter egg, it looks like a new hero is coming. I try to rate films in the genre in which they’re set. Superhero films are supposed to be filled with screen-smashing explosions and bigger-is-more effects. Infinity War does this “infinitely” better than others. But the lack of any character development is a negative. I give it 4 out of 5 Reels.

As you say, Scott, these are heroes we’ve met before. The only real character development happens in the villain. I give this film 3 out of 5 Heroes.

And the archetypes are all standard fare. Superheroes will be superheroes. Superwarriers will fight super hard. I give them all 3 out of 5 Arcs.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Maze Runner: The Death Cure ••

Starring: Dylan O’Brien, Ki Hong Lee, Kaya Scodelario
Director: Wes Ball
Screenplay: T.S. Nowlin, James Dashner
Action/Sci-Fi/Thriller, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 141 minutes
Release Date: January 26, 2018



I was hoping this would be a movie about children running in maize fields.

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

Amazing that you would think that, Greg. Let’s recap.

We’re introduced to Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) who is trying to rob a speeding train. He and his friends steal a super helicopter, disconnect a car from the moving train and carry it off hanging from the super-copter. When they land they release the prisoners: a gaggle of youngsters round up by WCKD (Wicked) who want to harvest their blood to make a potential cure for the Death Plague. But the object of Thomas’s heist, friend Minho (Ki Hong Lee), is not in the car – he’s been swept away to The City and is being forced to experience terrifying images so that his body will excrete the serum that Theresa (Kaya Scodelario) hopes will be the cure.

Thomas and his friends devise a plan to secretly enter The City to find Minho. Their former friend Gally (Will Poulter), who was believed dead, helps them find passage inside the city walls. Their plan is to use Thomas’ former girlfriend Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) to help them enter the big research skyscraper where Minho is being held. They capture Teresa, who guides them into the building where all sorts of mayhem ensues after encounters with the villainous Janson (Aidan Gillen).

Maze Runner: The Death Cure is no improvement over its previous incarnations. The story makes little sense and is a series of unlikely events strung together that never deliver on their promises. At one point, I thought the writers were going to martyr Thomas, but they did not. I thought they were setting up a love triangle between Thomas, Teresa, and Brenda (Rosa Salazar), but they did not. I thought they were going to have Gally betray them, but he did not. This movie was one uninspiring scene after another. I was relieved when it was all over.

Greg, is it just me or have we seen far too many movies in the “dystopian-future-young-adult fiction” genre that all seem to share essentially the same plot. These movies feature a group of young people in rebellion over a corrupt older generation that has inflicted terrible injustices on the youth. Maze Runner: The Death Cure gives us nice ensemble cast of characters whom we can get behind, with solid kudos to Dylan O’Brien, Will Poulter, and Kaya Scodelario. The story of these young heroes overthrowing their corrupt elders is pretty much by-the-numbers and predictable.

The two most interesting characters turn out to be the villains, Ava Paige and Janson. We get the sense that Paige’s intentions are good though her means for attaining her goals are ethically a disaster. Janson, in contrast, is a total bad apple who is driven by a lust of power and control. We can tell a villain is pure evil when he smiles as he kills. Actor AIdan Gillen plays essentially the same sordid character here as he did in Game of Thrones. The character of Teresa is also complex as she finds herself caught between two worlds, and of course she must make a choice about which world to commit to — a conundrum that naturally leads to her demise.

Yes, adult corruption and overthrow is a common theme in Young Adult literature, and it has just about had its run. In my interactions with writers and agents in writer’s workshops and conventions, I’m hearing a yearning from young readers for themes that more closely relate to their world. Young readers (and movie goers) are well aware of these well-worn patterns and are ready for a change. Maybe that’s the reason for last year’s Lady Bird and Wonder.

As for the archetypes we encountered in Maze Runner 3, Thomas is the clear HERO. And we have dual LOVE INTERESTs in Teresa and Brenda. However, it appears that Teresa is the true object of Thomas’s affections as he risks everything to save her from WCKD. Brenda, on the other hand has little to do in this story. Gally is an interesting character as he is both BACK FROM THE DEAD and a REDEEMED VILLAIN.

In my book Agile Writer: Method I point out that at the 75% point in a story someone close to the hero may die. Newt fits the SACRIFICIAL LAMB archetype. It’s not necessary for someone to die, but movies often kill off a popular character at that point in the story to demark the lowest point for the hero and also to show that the stakes are very high – life or death.

Every hero needs a goal and saving Minho fulfils that role. Hitchcock called this THE MCGUFFIN. It doesn’t matter if Minho is actually saved because that’s not important. It’s the hero’s missing inner quality that needs healing. As you point out, every hero also needs a VILLAIN and that’s Janson – he most clearly is trying to thwart Thomas’s goal. It’s interesting that you mention Ava Paige because she’s not a classic villain – she’s an administrator with the goal to save humanity from the death plague. Her methods are cruel – to torture young people so they produce serum. I’m not quite sure what archetype she fits.

Greg, I’m not sure that Maze Runner: The Death Cure is a cure for death but it most certainly offers a cure for insomnia. There just isn’t any new ground covered here, only a recycling of many Young Adult literary themes from The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Giver, and many other recent movie franchises. There are some commendable performances from several cast members, and a glimpse or two of effective villainy, but beyond that there is not much to cheer about. I give this film 2 Reels out of 5.

The heroes of this story do indeed traverse the hero’s journey. They boldly attempt a rescue by entering the enemy’s big city; they receive help along the way; and they encounter villains and obstacles. I don’t see any significant character transformation, which is not unusual given that this movie is merely a single installment of a series. Overall, the heroes are portrayed effectively, and so I award them 3 Hero points out of 5.

Greg, you mention several nice examples of this story’s use of archetypes. If I had to identify Paige’s archetype, it would be that of the tragic hero who means well but whose pride and arrogance condemns her to make bad decision (and also leads to her death). The effective use of archetypes here belies the mediocrity of the film. I give The Death Cure 4 archetype Arc points out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes:   Heroes:

Maze Runner: The Death Cure is par for the course in the Maze Runner series. Like the prequels, a lot is promised and little is delivered. The whole movie has a sort of made-for-TV feel to it. I also give it 2 out of 5 Reels.

Thomas is a typical teen-in-dystopia hero – if there is such a thing. I’m reminded of Triss from the last movie in the Divergent series. They both seem to wander aimlessly through villages and brushlands. At any rate, Thomas dos all the things we expect him to do and he’s quite the bore for it. I can only muster 2 out of 5 Heroes for him.

As noted, there are a number of archetypes and they all perform their usual functions. There are no new or noteworthy icons. I’m giving just 3 out of Arcs for them.

Movie: Archetypes:   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


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

(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:

Lady Bird •••

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Timothée Chalamet, Odeya Rush
Director: Greta Gerwig
Screenplay: Greta Gerwig
Comedy/Drama, Rated: R
Running Time: 94 minutes
Release Date: December 2, 2017


Scott, is this next movie about President Johnson’s wife?

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

No, Greg, it’s about basketball legend Larry Bird’s wife. Or is it? Let’s recap.

We’re introduced to Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan). She’s a 2002 high school senior who is about as average as you might expect. But she has ambitions to go to college – anywhere that isn’t in Sacramento, CA where she lives. Her mother (Laurie Metcalf) wants her to apply to community college so that she’ll stay close to home. Her father (Tracy Letts)  is recently fired from his job. And her half-brother and his girlfriend live with them too.

Lady Bird joins her school’s theater group and begins dating a boy named Danny (Lucas Hedges). The relationship ends when she discovers that Danny is gay. She then begins dating Kyle (Timothée Chalamet), a member of a locally popular band. This relationship also ends badly when she sleeps with Kyle and discovers he lied about being a virgin. Meanwhile, Lady Bird secretly applies to colleges on the east coast and butts heads frequently with her emotionally abusive mother.

Lady Bird is a well-crafted film that has little to offer in terms of story. There aren’t any revelations here. It’s the story of an underachieving girl who wants to go away to college. More than anything she wants to get out of town. She doesn’t apply herself to her studies so that she can make her way in on her best merits, but instead, gets waitlisted and at the last minute gets accepted because someone else dropped out. She makes simple mistakes that high-school girls make in uninspiring ways. She has fights with her mother that typical teens have. This is very much a cliched look at an average teenage girl’s life in 2002 – perhaps a bit autobiographical and so somewhat self-indulgent.

Greg, you make an interesting observation about this film’s lack of story. My interpretation of the film is that it concentrates on a thin slice of the hero’s journey, namely, the prelude to the departure into the unfamiliar world. Lady Bird is a would-be hero who feels trapped at home, which she finds stultifying. Her mother is a trainwreck and the town of Sacramento serves as a prison from which her heroic self must break free. While this story focuses only on a tiny slice of the hero’s journey, it is a fascinating and satisfying slice. Saoirse Ronan does a phenomenal job with the character, although she is too old to pass for a high-school student.

As the prelude to the full hero quest, this film leaves us with a feeling of incompletion. We just reviewed the film, Wonder, which portrays a child’s full journey from despair to triumph. In Lady Bird, we’re hopeful that our hero will triumph on the east coast but we’ll never know. The bulk of this movie is one glimpse after another of Lady Bird’s mistakes and awkward moments — the kinds of things pre-heroes do. Her disastrous relationships with Danny and Kyle are good examples, not to mention her crazy decision to jump out of a car going at high speed to escape her crazy mother. At the end of the film when Lady Bird finally changes her hair and drops the ‘Lady Bird’ nickname, we know she is finally ready to go on her journey.

Laurie Metcalf is wonderful as the mother who is desperate to keep her daughter at home. There isn’t much left for mom and holding on to her last child becomes her only goal. Mom is a damaged woman who uses guilt and guile to keep “Lady Bird” in line. Despite constantly exposing her daughter’s weaknesses, it’s clear she loves Christine and is working hard to keep her family together.

More than anything, this movie is a study of relationships. It does a good job of showing us the tensions between Christine and the people in her life. Still, I look for a story that I can take home. I want to see more exposure of the lessons the hero learns. For Christine, it’s her relationship with her mother that changes rather than Christine herself.

You describe this as a prelude to the hero’s journey – and I can see how you might come to that conclusion. But for me, one of the evidences of the hero’s emergence is a change in attire and in this case, a change in name. Christine sheds the “Lady Bird” moniker and accepts her “given” name as her identity. She’s come to grips with who she is. And she had to leave home to find the basis for the relationship with her mother. As such, it is a coming of age story, just not one that I enjoyed very much.

Lady Bird is a well-crafted story of a young woman’s efforts to pull free from her familiar, stifling world. Her dysfunctional family dynamics pose a considerable hindrance to her desire and ability to attend college 3,000 miles away, with her damaged mother proving to be especially obstructionistic. We’re also treated to the inevitable disasters of a young person’s first few romantic dalliances. The film shows us a mini-hero’s journey nested within the larger hero’s journey of her life, and I was both impressed and moved by her story. I award this film 4 Reels out of 5.

We’ve described Lady Bird’s heroic arc in enough detail, so no need for further elaboration. We’re denied the full story of Lady Bird’s life, and thus this movie did leave me wanting more. That in itself can be both a good thing and a bad thing. I give our protagonist 3 Hero points out of 5. Regarding transformations, we witness our hero metamorphosize from her self-appointed label of ‘Lady Bird’ to her true self, Christine. The transformations are fun to watch and rang true to me. I award this film 4 transformative Deltas out of 5.

Movie: Heroes: Transformations:

I have similar problems with Lady Bird as I had with Ronan’s other coming-of-age film: Brooklyn. In both films there are few conflicts and the ones our hero has are solved in simplistic ways. I kept wanting something to happen in this story, and it never did. We’re treated to one lackluster event after another culminating in a lackluster transformation. I give Lady Bird just 2 Reels out of 5.

Christine is an unremarkable young woman who doesn’t try very hard to get what she wants. And in the end, she does get what she wants but only through the luck of the draw. I give her just 2 Heroes out of 5. Finally, her transformation is simplistic and a bit saccharine. I give her just 2 Deltas out of 5.

As a postscript, I would like to call out Laurie Metcalf’s performance as the stand-out element of this film. This is a conflicted woman who is full of love trying to hold her family together despite myriad forces that are pulling her world apart. This was a complicated character that Metcalf portrayed skillfully. I look forward to nominations for her work in this film.

Movie: Heroes: Transformations:

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




(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:

Kingsman: The Golden Circle ••1/2

Starring: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Mark Strong
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Screenplay: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn
Action/Adventure/Comedy, Rated: R
Running Time: 141 minutes
Release Date: September 22, 2017


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

Greg, the men of the king are back at it again.

And it looks like the men of the States are at it too. Let’s recap:

Eggsy Unwin (Taron Egerton), an agent of the spy organization, Kingsman, is ambushed by Charlie Hesketh (Edward Holcroft), a former Kingsman who is now working for drug cartel magnate Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore). Eggsy escapes but Charlie’s cybernetic arm is able to hack into Kingsman’s computer network. This allows Poppy to destroy nearly all of the Kingsman’s agents.

Only Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) are left. They travel to America where their counterparts – the Statesmen – are ready to help. But it’s not long before Agent Tequila (Channing Tatum) has contracted a virus implanted by Poppy in her drugs. In fact, it’s a worldwide epidemic. Poppy demands a ransom before releasing the antidote. Meanwhile, Kingsman Agent Galahad (Colin Firth) is found to be alive and joins Eggsy, Merlin, and Statesman Agent Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) to track down the antidote before everyone dies.

Greg, I was prepared to dislike this movie, as sequels are usually inferior re-treads of the original version. Somehow, Kingsman: The Golden Circle managed to entertain me far more than it had any right to. As in the original, Golden Circle features crisp and clever dialogue and several likeable characters in Eggsy, Merlin, Galahad, and Tequila.

Two complaints I have are in the length of the movie (please, VERY few movies need to exceed two hours) and in the unnecessary zaniness. I’m reminded of the last Guardians of the Galaxy film in which David Hasselhoff, a giant pac-man, and Mary Poppins all make cameos. Here it is Elton John, butterflies, and John Denver. No doubt this film never wants us to take it seriously, and I suspect this is all part of the greater problem of this movie not really knowing who its audience is.

I think I’ve figured out who the audience is – it’s 18-25 year-old young men. As much as the film is nostalgic for the original Bond movies, it’s not mature enough to reach Bond status. The gratuitous sex and violence (there is little subtlety on either account – witness a fingering of a woman’s vagina) as well as the gore make the film too adult for children. That leaves a “sweet spot” of what writers call the “New Adult” genre.

You’ve already alluded to my problems with this film. Poppy is in love with the 1950’s – yet she’s kidnapped 1970s pop star Elton John. Why? For no rational reason. Perhaps the writer/director Matthew Vaughn simply adores Elton John and wanted him in it.

And what does Vaughn have against the United States – and Kentucky in particular? In the last film, it’s American Samuel L. Jackson who is the villain. And Colin Firth shoots up a Kentucky church filled with homophobic racists. In Golden Circle we have Julianne Moore, drugs, and (once again) a Kentucky Statesman gone bad. I found the America bashing in the first film odd. But the recurrence of the “redneck American” in this film clinched it for me – Matthew Vaughn doesn’t like Americans.

Although it is true that the “Statesman” organization in Kentucky is on the side of good, you’re right that they are portrayed as British caricatures of rural America. I’m not sure why Channing Tatum and Jeff Bridges agreed to play these demeaning hillbilly roles; it seems beneath them. I will give Vaughn credit for accurately portraying Donald Trump as a ruthless profiteer.

Regarding heroic transformation, our hero Eggsy doesn’t change in this film but he does mentally transform his beloved mentor, Harry Hart. The film’s mastermind villain, Julianne Moore, is pure evil and hence doesn’t change much, either. She does, however, physically transform her minions into zesty ground meat. The sheer evil of this act is jarring against the backdrop of the movie’s comedic elements.

I think you’ve nailed it, Scott. This movie borders on parody without tipping the scales enough to make it so. The violence borders on slapstick. The action borders on farce. It’s hard to decide whether to take this film seriously or to enjoy it as comedy. There’s a point where Merlin gives up his life for our heroes. It’s hard to know how to feel about this since a commonly accepted rule of comedy is that no one really gets hurt. Yet, amid this slapstick battle, a beloved character dies. It’s a bit of a confusing mess.

As for the transformations – again you’ve hit the nail on the head. Nobody really transforms in this story. Eggsy is already an accomplished spy. Galahad is returned to normal. And everyone else ends up pretty much as they started. As we’ve noted with other films this year, transformation is not the point of comedy stories. Transformation and good storytelling give way to yucks.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a fairly entertaining movie that tries hard to blend serious James Bond-like action and drama with Austin Powers-like goofiness and parody. There are some successes in this regard and some failures, resulting in an overall mixed bag that at two hours and 21 minutes is a fun but bloated ride. This is a movie that tries to be serious yet assaults us with Elton John sight gags and John Denver soundtracks. Still, the good heartfelt performances from Taron Egerton and Julianne Moore compel me to award this film 3 Reels out of 5.

The hero’s journey here is a retread of many past spy movies involving double-agents, rival spy organizations, and irredeemable villains. This installment of the nascent Kingsman franchise reveals a hero in Eggsy that is already polished and resourceful, and so there isn’t much of a journey of self-discovery and improvement for us to witness. The best hero rating I can give is 2 out of 5. As you’ve pointed out, Greg, there is little in the way of hero transformation, other than Colin Firth evolving from brain-damaged dolt to his previous brilliant self. A transformation rating of 2 Deltas out of 5 seems fitting.

Movie: Transformation: Heroes:

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a cringe-worthy attempt to match parody with drama. It is over the top in both the sex and violence categories with individuals actually getting bifurcated. The presence of Elton John is both unnecessary and distracting. I was offended by the presentation of Americans in general, and Kentuckians specifically. I give this film just 2 out of 5 Reels.

Eggsy has evolved into a true gentleman spy – much like Bond before him. I like where they’ve taken him. And he is actually more honorable than Bond as he is in a committed relationship and hesitates to use his manly charms without permission from his woman. I give Eggsy 3 out of 5 Heroes.

The film didn’t leave much in the way of transformation for any of the characters. I can only muster 1 out of 5 Deltas.

Movie: Transformation: 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



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

(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


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


(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


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(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



(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: