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Ocean’s Eight ••1/2

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

SPOILERS WITHIN!


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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


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

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

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

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

I Feel Pretty ••1/2

Starring: Amy Schumer, Michelle Williams, Emily Ratajkowski
Director: Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein
Screenplay: Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein
Comedy, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 110 minutes
Release Date: April 20, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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I feel pretty … good about this movie, Scott.


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

Pretty funny, Greg. Let’s get right to it, shall we?


We’re introduced to Renee (Amy Schumer) , an average-looking woman who is working for a fashion make-up company. She wants to move up in the company, but fears that she doesn’t have the high-fashion attractiveness that is necessary to be promoted. After watching the movie Big she wishes on a fountain that she might be “pretty.” The next day while working out in spin class when she falls off the bike and bangs her head. When she comes to, she believes that she has been transformed into a beautiful woman.


With new-found confidence, Renee begins seeking triumphs she normally would eschew. First, she has an encounter at the dry cleaners with Ethan, a man waiting in line behind her. They exchange phone numbers and she calls him later to ask him on a date. Much to his shock and admiration, she enters a bikini contest during the date. Next, she applies for a job as a receptionist at the exclusive Lily LeClair cosmetics corporation. Her winsome spirit during the job interview lands her the position.


Scott, I’m a big fan of Amy Schumer and her comedy. This movie seemed like the perfect vehicle for her brand. But, while the film starts out pretty strong, it falls apart in the third act. There’s a scene where Renee is talking to a fashion model who is lacking self-confidence and Renee tries to bolster her friend and comes to the conclusion that even pretty girls face body image issues. It’s very on-the-nose dialog that seems to be written by first-timers.

The climactic scene where Renee realizes that her appearance never changed is also a let-down. She comes to the conclusion that her attitude is what garnered her new-found success, not her appearance. It could have been an emotional moment, but in the hands of these writers fell completely flat. The writers attempted to wrap everything up in a tidy bow in two minutes. It was a major disappointment.


Greg, I think we disagree a bit on this film. I Feel Pretty works on its own as a charming and enjoyable romantic comedy, yet it also manages to convey a “message” with considerable gravitas. The message, of course, focuses on the importance of self-confidence in determining our success. Golf legend Jack Nicklaus once said, “Self-doubt stinks,” and I believe wiser words were never uttered about life in general. This film shines light on society’s obsession with outer beauty and reveals that obsession to be ugly. More importantly, this movie shows us how even a slight attitude adjustment about self-worth can pay big dividends.

I Feel Pretty represents a refreshing departure from last year’s Snatched which was largely a waste of Amy Schumer’s talent. I described Snatched as “a throwaway comedy with no real redeeming value”, and that was me being kind. The best movies give us a hero who is ripe for a meaningful change, undergoes the change but not without great suffering, and then gives back to the world. Our hero Renee touches all of these bases and we, the viewers, are left satisfied at the end – especially because Renee demonstrates to us the supreme importance of having confidence in ourselves.


We’ve seen this message delivered more powerfully and skillfully in other films like Big and Shallow Hal. There’s even an episode of Star Trek (Mudd’s Women) from the 1960s that does a better job. As much as I enjoyed elements of this film, the clumsy delivery made it difficult for me to enjoy. I give I Feel Pretty just 2 out of 5 Reels.

Renee does pretty well as a redeemed hero. When she believes herself to be unstoppably beautiful, she shuns her friends and grows a huge ego. When she realizes that she was herself the whole time, she also realizes that she acted badly and makes amends, thus redeeming herself. I give Renee 3 out of 5 Heroes.

The archetypes here are pretty sparse. We see the GOOD BOYFRIEND in the man she attracts. We also see the MEAN GIRLS in the fashion models in Renee’s company. I give the archetypes just 2 out of 5 Arcs.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


I Feel Pretty is a comeback of sorts for Amy Schumer, whose last film Snatched was one of the worst films of 2017. I Feel Pretty is by no means a cinematic masterpiece but it endears us with its simple message of believing in oneself. There are some comedic moments and also moments that remind us of Schumer’s genius as a physical comedian. I award this film 3 Reels out of 5.

The hero’s journey is followed by a hero to near-perfection. Renee’s bike accident transports her to a new world where she transforms herself (psychologically). Her fall in the shower later transports her back to her old familiar world, but now she has changed and is compelled to bring the change into the old world. Renee accomplishes this feat by summoning up the confidence she acquired earlier on her journey. Overall, it’s a highly effective use of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, earning our hero 4 Hero points out of 5.

You’ve mentioned two archetypes, Greg, and I’ll add the Lauren Hutton archetype of the aging matriarch along with the archetype of the muscle-bound frat-boy that we see in Lily’s brother. A non-character archetype pervades this film in the form of magic, which is the hallmark of films such as Big And Shallow Hal. These archetypes merit a rating of 4 Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Blockers ••1/2

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

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


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

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

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

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

A Wrinkle In Time ••1/2

Starring: Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon
Director: Ava DuVernay
Screenplay: Jennifer Lee, Jeff Stockwell
Adventure/Family/Fantasy, Rated: PG
Running Time: 109 minutes
Release Date: March 9, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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I thought this was a movie about an old guy who arrives just in time.


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

Chris Pine has just enough gray in his beard for you to be right, Greg. Let’s recap.


We’re introduced to young Meg Murry (Storm Reid) who is bullied at school because her astrophysicist father (Chris Pine) went missing four years ago. She has an adoptive brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) who is a child savant and sees the world in ways that Meg cannot, her pain at being abandoned by her father blocking her vision. Then one day, a magical “witch” appears – Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) – who tells her that she and her brother are able to follow her father through the magic of the Tesseract – a way of folding space-time that her father and PhD mother were researching.


Two other magical witches appear, Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), and joining the kids on their journey to find their father is neighborhood kid Calvin (Levi Miller). The witches first take the kid to a luminous planet with intelligent flowers who inform them that Mr. Murry had been there but had left. Here they also learn about the great evil force of the universe, IT, which is spreading. They must find their father on the planet Camazotz where they must defeat evil to find Mr. Murry.


Scott, it’s rare for a movie to be better than the book, but A Wrinkle in Time succeeds. The book is plagued by a first-half that merely takes our heroes from exotic planet to exotic planet without furthering the plot. This incarnation abandons the world-building-for-world-buildings-sake plot for a more compact telling.

However, the movie maintains a critical problem with the book in that it has no clear villain. The “IT” is an amorphous blob that reaches out into the universe like spiney tindrels. As we noted in our book Reel Heroes and Villains the best villains are those who have a physical, personal presence. These sorts of “pure evil” villains leave little to the imagination and are difficult to have an argument with.

Director Ava DuVernay eventually uses the device of having Charles Wallace be possessed by the IT so that Meg can have an emotional discourse with IT. While it’s not particularly entertaining, it is much better than fighting a largely unseeable villain.


Greg, A Wrinkle in Time is a movie with a big heart and certainly means well. Somehow, this noble intention coupled with big star-power doesn’t add up to a successful movie. My theory is that the film does a poor job of identifying its audience. If it’s pitched to kids, then why throw around fancy theories of space and time? If it’s pitched to adults, why give us dialogue at the second grade level? It doesn’t help that the three witches are silly-looking and even sillier-sounding. I recently watched The Wizard of Oz — its 1939 rendition of Glinda The Good Witch far outshines Wrinkle’s CGI-infested portrayals of Who, Whatsit, and Which.

I did enjoy some elements of the film, particularly its message of the unsurpassed transformative power of love. There is also a great theme of our defects hiding our strengths, with our wounds being the place where the light enters us. These are great messages to pass onto both kids and adults.


Scott, director DuVernay has been criticised for her use of a young Black girl as the protagonist. I’ve read complaints that Wrinkle is a love letter to them. If so, then good for her. So many movies are aimed at young white men (think of any action adventure film, Harry Potter, Transformers etc…) that one film that lifts up and enriches girls is both far overdue and very welcome. We’re treated to a young woman who is highly intelligent, fearless, and sensitive. And she’s mentored by three strong and wise women. Despite Wrinkle’s many flaws, I suspect in 10 or 20 years there will be millions of women who look back on A Wrinkle in Time as an inspiration.


Greg, I’m shocked to hear that anyone has a problem with a female African-American playing the lead role in a movie. I think you’d agree with me that less than 1% of the movies we review feature a Black woman in the hero’s role. We need more fair demographic representation of people of color in the movies, not less.

There are some notable archetypes in A Wrinkle in Time that are worth mentioning. Our hero Meg Murry is an outcast and an orphan, which positions her as an underdog whom we root for. Another underdog is her friend Calvin who joins them on the journey. We also have the young genius archetype in Charles Wallace, who (when he’s not possessed) is smarter than any other human character. There is also the mad scientist archetype (Mr. and Mrs. Murry), the good magical Witch archetype, and the pure evil demon villain (IT).


A Wrinkle in Time is a fantastic voyage with dark overtones which I believe will become a cult favorite similar to 1984’s Neverending Story. And as with the latter film, Wrinkle has a number of flaws that make for a good child’s fantasy, but leave adults wanting. I give A Wrinkle in Time 3 out of 5 Reels.

Meg is a wonderful hero who is smart, fearless, resilient, and capable. We want her to find her father – and ultimately it is her combination of intelligence and heart that save him. She’s flawed in that she can’t see beyond the pain of her abandonment by her father and her inability to accept love and feelings as being as valid as any science. I give Meg 4 out of 5 Heroes.

You’ve nailed the archetypes: The MENTOR, the ABSENT FATHER, the MAD SCIENTIST, CHILD SAVANT, FRIEND SIDEKICK, PURE EVIL VILLAIN. This movie has them all. I award 4 Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


A Wrinkle in Time is a child-like adventure tale that I would only recommend for children below the age of 10. It saddens me that the filmmakers here didn’t pitch the movie to a mature audience, because certainly the message of the film is timeless and potentially transformative for us all. I wish I could award Wrinkle more than 2 Reels out of 5 but I can’t.

There is most definitely a stirring hero’s journey here, with Meg and her friends led on an interplanetary adventure that teaches them valuable life lessons about love, loyalty, family, and good and evil. I see some classic elements of the hero’s journey, such as friendship, mentorship, and transformation. As such, I’ll award 4 Hero points out of 5.

With regard to archetypes, there are plenty of them for us to sink our teeth into. None of them moved me to any great degree, perhaps because I’m not in the film’s intended demographic. I’ll give the movie 3 archetype Arcs out of 5.

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

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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


scott
(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:

Thor: Ragnarok ••1/2

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett
Director: Taika Waititi
Screenplay: Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle
Action/Adventure/Comedy, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 130 minutes
Release Date: November 3, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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Scott, let’s review the latest muppet movie: Thor: FraggleRock.

 


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

You’ll get hammered by Thor for your disrespect, Greg. Let’s recap.


It looks like Thor has been trapped upside down and is talking to a skeleton for some reason. Meanwhile his brother Loki is pretending to be his father Odin for some reason. The two make friends and go in search of their father who is dying in Norway for some reason. Odin warns the two that their (heretofore unknown) sister is coming back to reign terror and take over their homeworld of Asgard… for some reason.


Odin explains that Hela had once been a vicious conqueror but had been vanquished and erased from history. Sure enough, Odin dies and Hela appears. She easily defeats Thor and jettisons him into space to die. Traveling into the underworld, Hela resurrects her old army and oversized wolf. She also recruits an Asgard named Skurge (Karl Urban) to be her executioner. Meanwhile, Thor appears on a planet of garbage and is captured by Valkyrie Scrapper 142 (Tessa Thompson) who appears ready to sell him into slavery.


Scott, I think I no longer know what makes a good movie. Thor: Ragnarok is about as nonsensical a film as any I’ve ever seen. And yet critics and fans alike give the film rave reviews (93% from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, and 90% from fans). I’ve seen bad movies (like Adam Sandler’s Grown Ups films) that have low scores from critics, but high scores from fans. That makes sense to me – an artist like Sandler knows his audience and delivers. But how in the world critics can give Ragnarok a good review is beyond me.

Here’s my beef: it longs to be Guardians of the Galaxy but has none of the charm and complexity of that film. Nothing in Ragnarok makes sense: We have a purely evil character in Hela. How is it that she can destroy Thor’s hammer? I thought it was indestructible and only could be held by someone of incredible virtue? She has a backstory that comes out of nowhere and her storyline is basically put on the back burner while we follow Thor on Sakaar who has to fight for the Grandmaster (delightfully played by Jeff Goldblum who seems to be keenly aware he’s in a ridiculous movie) against, of all creatures, The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). How convenient / unlikely is that?

This scenario is clearly designed to pit two Marvel characters against each other in humorous ways. But in the end it begs a bunch of questions about just how super these superheroes are. I mean, is Thor indestructible? He can withstand being bashed against walls and floors. If so, why is he disabled by a little shock of electricity from Scrapper’s device? Isn’t Thor the God of Thunder? Shouldn’t he be able to withstand the shock of, say, lightning. This movie made no sense at all and I didn’t find the situations funny as much as they were contrived.


Greg, you’ve been singing the praises of Marvel films for years now, and I can’t think of a single one that operates in the world of logic, consistency, or reality. They’re all skillfully crafted goofball adventure stories, with pretty much every scene of these films requiring a cavernous suspension of disbelief.

Thor: Ragnarok continues in this tradition and is another storytelling triumph for Marvel. This film showcases the cycle of life, with our hero Thor going through the ordeal of replacing his father on the throne. In the process he even loses his eye in the same way that his father did. As with most Marvel films, this movie has depth and heft to it, gifting audiences with memorable characters and a screenplay offering a perfect blend of intelligence and wit.

Redemption is a key component of heroism and it abounds in this film. Loki is the obvious redeeming figure, but we also see redemption in the rock creature rotting in the Grandmaster’s dungeon, and in Scrapper 142, the Valkyrie who captures Thor but later becomes empowered to reclaim her rightful place in the universe. There is also redemption in the Hulk, who is liberated from the Grandmaster’s fighting arena. In addition, we see satisfying redemption in Skurge, the henchman who turns against Hela and dies saving the citizens of Asgard.


Scott, in my own defense, most of the Marvel films have internal consistency and deep characters that make them worth watching. I didn’t find this to be true in Thor: Ragnarok.

Thor as a hero is his usual self. He’s super powerful and super moral. He is also flawed in that he is still brash and filled with hubris. He seems to mature in this film as he puts his people ahead of himself and takes the throne. He realizes that leadership is a service and not a burden nor a privilege. Different than his earlier incarnations, he is both willing and able to make this transition.

As mentioned, Thor undergoes a deep transformation as he shifts from a selfish, devil-may-care character to a leader. The demise of his sister Hela seems accomplished in a simplistic way. She goes from a ‘hellish’ leader to a bit of ash by the film’s end. It seems the relationship between Thor and Loki, while still tenuous, has also matured into one of mutual respect and cooperation.


I’m glad you mention transformations, Greg. Transformation and redemption go hand-in-hand, and so this film is chock-full of them. In a key scene, Thor and Loki are having a heart-to-heart conversation about how different they turned out, and Thor cuts to the chase: While he (Thor) has changed and grown as a person, Loki has not. Thor even mentions that growth and transformation are what life is all about. Perhaps his little speech had an effect, as Loki later steps up and helps Thor defeat his older sister.

And so we see that Thor serves as Loki’s mentor, thus demonstrating how mentorship is key to transformation. Thor ends up mentoring several people, including Bruce Banner, the Valkyrie, and the rock creature. Odin operates as Thor’s mentor.


Thor: Ragnarok mystifies me as I don’t see the appeal. It’s a loosely tied plot with shallow characters and no point. The only character I found interesting was the Grandmaster played by Jeff Goldblum. I am dumbfounded by how Thor can withstand intense beatings by the Hulk and yet lose his eye to lightning – of which he is the supposed god. I give this film 1 out of 5 Reels.

As far as heroes go, Thor does pretty well. He is the classic superhero which gives him a baseline of points. And he undergoes a transition from fractious child to responsible adult as he takes both the throne and responsibility for his people. I give Thor 3 out of 5 Heroes and 3 out of 5 Deltas.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:


Thor: Ragnarok is yet another winner for Marvel, the movie studio that has perfected the art of producing fabulously entertaining superhero stories. This film works on every level, from storytelling to character development to production value. Our hero Thor is tested to the limits and is humbled en route to defeating his evil older sister. I’m impressed by the numerous instances of redemption and transformation in a half-dozen characters who are forced by circumstances to respond to the heroic challenges facing them.

This movie is clever and imaginative, easily earning it 4 Reels out of 5. For its emphasis on heroic growth among many of its ensemble of characters, I award Thor: Ragnarok’s heroes a rating of 4 Hero points out of 5. The pervasiveness of redemptive story arcs among these characters also signifies significant character growth and change, and thus I also give this film 4 transformation 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:

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

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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scott
(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

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:

Kidnap ••

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

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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


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

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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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

Movie: Heroes: Transformation:


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

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

Movie: Heroes: Transformation: