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Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom •••

Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall
Director: J.A. Bayona
Screenplay: Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow
Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 128 minutes
Release Date: June 22, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!


Are we reviewing a new Pokemon Movie with new dinosaurs and we “Gotta Catch ‘em All?”


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

No, Greg, the only thing we’re catching is sequel fever. It’s a Hollywood epidemic. Let’s recap.


We’re introduced to Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) who is running an organization to save the dinosaurs left on the Jurassic Island. The island is on the verge of exploding due to volcanic activity. She’s approached by entrepreneur Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) who wants to save eleven species – especially the Raptor named Blue. She enlists the aid of her old friend / love interest Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) who wants nothing to do with the rescue. She convinces him by reminding him that Blue was his favorite ‘saur. And they’re off to the island of misfit dinosaurs to catch ‘em all.


Of course things go badly on the island. Not only do Claire and Owen barely escape with their lives, thanks to the irritable volcano, but they also discover that the paid mercenary rescue team has been ordered to move the ‘saurs to the home of Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), a long-lost partner of Dr. Hammond who established the original Jurassic Park. All the ‘saurs will be auctioned off to the highest bidder.


Scott, I’m at a complete loss to understand why any of us should care about these ‘saurs. They seem really dangerous and vicious. It really seems like the world would be better off without them. We don’t see any examples of how the ‘saurs are compassionate, or cute, or cuddly, or in any way worthy of saving. Jeff Goldblum even reprises his role as Dr. Malcom to tell a Senate subcommittee that they should let the ‘saurs die with the island because they don’t belong here. So, the entire premise of the movie – that we need to save the dinosaurs – is in no way validated. So I can’t buy in to our hero’s goal to risk their lives to save really dangerous animals.


I admire your cynicism, Greg. You could say that our two romantic heroes are driven by two needs — the need to preserve life, however dangerous that life may be, and the need to prolong the longevity of the Jurassic Park franchise, which is making millions for Universal Pictures.

This installment of the Jurassic Park franchise has all the familiar ingredients – bloodthirsty ‘saurs, bad dudes who underestimate these ‘saurs, good dudes who try to stop the bad dudes from exploiting the ‘saurs, and a cute little kid who eludes the ‘saurs. There is also a romantic couple devoted to these creatures but are helpless to do anything about their mistreatment. To top it all off, Jeff Goldblum is the expert narrating the story and giving us the usual Jurassic Park commentary about the dangers of tampering with nature.

So you’d might think from my tepid description of the film that I was bored to tears and am ready to beg the filmmakers to euthanize this series once and for all. But I refuse to do that. Jurassic Park has always managed to entertain me even when I know exactly what’s going to happen before it happens. There’s no logic to my liking these overgrown lizards. It should be time to retire the raptors, terminate the T-Rex, and jettison the Jurassic. I plead guilty to liking a movie I have no business liking, and there’s not even an interesting hero story I can single out to justify my poor taste. Could it be that I’m partial to films starring Zefram Cochrane (played by James Cromwell), inventor of the warp engine?


Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is what it is: a summer blockbuster popcorn movie filled with action and adventure. It’s not driven by a coherent plot, but at least the acting was pretty good. I give it 3 out of 5 Reels.

The heroes in this story are Owen and Claire. As a buddy and romantic pairing they do pretty well. Although Claire is played up as the beautiful brains behind the operation, she’s also pretty tough in her own right. Owen is the masculine save-the-day classic hero. I give them 3 out of 5 Heroes.

As for the archetypes, I noticed that they replaced the DAMSEL IN DISTRESS with a screaming, inept, and impotent COMPUTER GEEK. Good for them in the age of the #MeToo movement. There’s the classic CORPORATE FAT CAT only interested in profit without regard to life, liberty, or ethics. They also went to great lengths to create a family unit harkening back to the original Jurassic Park. Claire is not a fan of children, but by the end of the movie Claire, Owen, and the CLONED GIRL Maisie (Isabella Sermon) come together as the NUCLEAR FAMILY that the audience can recognize and root for. I give these archetypes 3 out of 5 Arcs.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


Damn it, Greg, I hate it when we agree on all three ratings. This is a flagrant violation of the laws of nature and the world feels off-kilter now. This rendition of Jurassic Park is indeed a prototypical summer action flick that appeals to my reptilian brain, my inner ‘saur. There is a dark side to this film that is much more horrifying than the bloodthirsty lizards on the screen — the reality of human cloning, which is thrown at us without much fanfare. If the next film in the franchise runs with this idea in imaginative ways, we could have a really fresh future for this franchise.

So yes, my ratings are identical — 3 Reels, 3 Heroes, and 3 Arcs. The heroes of this story undergo the same journey as the heroes in all the previous Jurassic movies. They are not so much transformed by their journey as they are horrified and damaged by it — yet with each installment, they come back with renewed enthusiasm for saving the ‘saurs. Also, with each film we have a fresh new set of bad guys who underestimate the power of nature and whose cages for these creatures never seem strong enough. Did they never see the original King Kong movie? It’s definitely a ‘saur spot for this franchise.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Deadpool 2 ••••

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin
Director: David Leitch
Screenplay: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Action/Adventure/Comedy, Rated: R
Running Time: 119 minutes
Release Date: May 18, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!


Scott, Ryan Reynolds is back in the gene pool with Deadpool 2.


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

I’ve been dying to swim in the Deadpool again, Greg. Let’s recap.


Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool) has dispatched a ‘pool’ of bad guys when he returns home to his girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). The two are canoodling when one of the remaining bad guys interrupts and kills Vanessa. Now, Wade is despondent and attempts suicide by blowing himself into small bits – hoping that his regenerative powers are not sufficient to pull him back together.


Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) picks up Wade’s pieces and attempts to rehab him by enrolling him as a trainee in the X-Men school. On his first assignment, Wade is asked to diffuse a situation in which Russell Collins (Julian Dennison) has exploded in anger over being mistreated by the headmaster. Wade mishandles the situation, leading to he and Russell being incarcerated together. But a cyber-thug named Cable (Josh Brolin) arrives from the future to wreak havoc and kill Russell.


Scott, ‘Deadpool 2’ is the sequel that should not have been made. Or at least, a sequel that is really just a transition to a new franchise. It seems the purpose of this film is to create a new group of mutants called the X-Force. If you liked the first Deadpool, you may like this film, too. Although the shock value of a superhero who is nearly as bad as his villains has worn off. Reynolds’ sarcastic humor is still in force here. There are a lot of pop culture references that probably will go over the heads of younger audience members – so it seems every joke has to be explained (for example, Deadpool is regenerating his lower-half and he uncrosses his legs in a style reminiscent of Sharon Stone in ‘Basic Instinct’. So, someone quips that Wade has given in to his ‘Basic Instinct’. So on-the-nose.)


Greg, it’s no secret that I’ve had issues with several recent films from the Marvel Comics universe. But I’m going to have to differ with you here and proclaim Deadpool 2 to be an unequivocal winner, perhaps the best Marvel film I’ve seen in years. Like most Marvel movies, this one is a comedy, but it is no ordinary comedy. The filmmakers have taken the comedic elements to another level here, breaking the fourth wall in clever ways and giving us many laugh-out-loud moments. This movie also has a stylishness here that is usually reserved for classier films outside this genre. I was particularly taken with rather inventive, surreal scenes of the afterlife involving Deadpool’s slain girlfriend.

When we reviewed the first Deadpool, I believe we disagreed on the issue of whether Wade Wilson was a hero or an antihero. I think it’s pretty clear in this film that Wilson falls into the hero camp. Inspired by dreamlike encounters with his girlfriend in the afterlife, Wilson develops a desire to save Russell Collins before Collins becomes irredeemably bad. At the end, Wilson even sacrifices his life to save Collins’s life, with a convenient time machine able to reverse Wilson’s death. All this makes Deadpool a first-rate hero.


I’m not so easily convinced, Scott. Deadpool seems to kill without provocation – assigning himself the roles of judge, jury, and executioner. I don’t think a proper hero would do that. Compare to Thanos from Avengers: Infinity War – is he a hero or villain? Most would consider him a clear villain. But Thanos put himself in the same role of deciding for the universe who lives and dies.

Deadpool crosses the “Batman Line” in that he’s a vigilante. But unlike Batman, he doesn’t let the justice system determine the villain’s outcome – he takes it upon himself to dispatch justice. This is what X-Men Colossus and Negasonic are trying to teach him. And that is the very reason we find him in jail. However, by the end of the film, it looks like he may have found a balance. We’ll see in the next installment of this franchise.


Deadpool 2 represents a breath of fresh air in offering us a fun story with clever, comedic irreverence. The fact that I was once critical of Ryan Reynolds as an actor has come back to haunt me; he’s proven himself to be absolutely perfect in the role of Wade Wilson. This movie has many layers of nuanced humor that will require a second viewing to fully appreciate. I’m eager for more Deadpool and am sad to have to wait a couple years until the next installment. This film merits a rating of 5 Reels out of 5.

The hero’s journey stands out in bold relief, with Wade being thrown into the journey when his girlfriend is murdered. He’s rather pitiful for a while but the combined influence of Colossus, Russell Collins, and his love interest (in the afterlife) do a tag-team job of pulling Wade out of his funk and into his best heroic self. Wade undergoes a terrific heroic transformation in this film. I award this Pool of Dead 4 Hero points out of 5.

In this film we see many of the usual archetypes depicted in superhero movies. The super-strong hyper-masculine male is on full display in Wade, Colossus, and Russell. There is also the archetype of the revenge motive, which spurred Deadpool into action in the first movie as well as in this one. The time-travelling archetypes is old and worn yet used well with self-deprecating humor here. I give this film a rating of 3 archetypal Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


I was bored during most of Deadpool 2 – perhaps I’m suffering superhero fatigue. There was just so much demolition that I had trouble parsing out the story. I enjoyed the twist that Cable was not out to kill Deadpool, but the kid Russell. This gives Deadpool someone to protect. But in the end, it’s Cable who is trying to save his daughter by preemptively killing Russell who ultimately kills her. It creates a dual “saving the cat” motive that creates depth for both characters. I give Deadpool 2 3 out of 5 Reels.

As we’ve discussed, I’m not sold on Deadpool as a hero. Although, in this film, it looks like Wade Wilson may have come to some resolution on his villainous choices and may, in the future, not be so heavy-handed with doling out judgement. I give him 3 out of 5 Heroes.

The archetypes are typical superhero fare. Wade as the SUPERHERO, Russell as the SIDEKICK, Cable as the MISUNDERSTOOD VILLAIN, Vanessa as the FALLEN BRIDE, and Colossus as the MENTOR. I give them 3 out of 5 Arcs.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Overboard •••

Starring: Anna Faris, Eugenio Derbez, Eva Longoria
Director: Rob Greenberg
Screenplay: Leslie Dixon, Bob Fisher
Comedy/Romance, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 112 minutes
Release Date: May 4, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!


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

Greg, let’s not go overboard in our praise for this movie, okay?


I have to admit, I was not over bored by how much better this remake was than the original. Let’s recap…


We meet Kate (Anna Faris), a woman studying to become a nurse while also holding down two jobs to feed her family. One day, while cleaning the carpets aboard a yacht, Kate runs into the playboy owner of the yacht, Leonardo (Eugenio Derbez). He insults her and literally throws her overboard, along with her equipment which she must now pay for.


Leonardo doesn’t waste much time getting wasted and falls overboard his yacht. He ends up in the hospital with amnesia. His sister Theresa (Eva Longoria) wants to take over the family business and having Leonardo out of the way makes that easy. So, she leaves him there. Meanwhile, Kate sees Leo’s picture on the news and hatches a plan to make him pay her back by serving as her husband and father to her three children while she studies for her nursing degree.


On the surface, Overboard is a lightweight throwaway comedy, with a far-fetched plot, stock characters we’ve seen a million times before, and a predictable, saccharin ending. Yet from a hero’s journey perspective, this movie is pure gold. Our romantic hero duo of Leo and Kate are both thrust into a new world of a faux marriage that transforms them both, especially Leo. His riches-to-rags change in setting produces a total personality makeover, transforming him from a spoiled jerk to a humbled, loving husband and father. This discovery of the true self as a result of the journey is the hallmark feature of any good hero’s tale.

When Leo returns to his rich lifestyle, he is now “Master of Both Worlds”, a man who knows wealth but who can also thrive in impoverished circumstances. While experiencing poverty, Leo transformed into a humble, devoted family man, and once transformed our hero cannot become untransformed. His faux marriage allowed him to find his “true self” who, in the terminology of Joseph Campbell, has found his bliss and emerges as a man who is in union with all the world.


Great analysis of the hero in this story, Scott. Overboard is an unlikely Hollywood comedy remade from the Goldie Hawn 1984 original. I thought this version did a great job of paving over the plot holes in the original. The production values, acting, and writing were also much better. As ridiculous as I found the plot, watching Leo commiserate with his fellow workmates was hilarious. (At one point he says, “I feel like this is not my life. Like I was destined for more. And I haven’t had sex in months.” To which his hard-working, married, and low-wages compatriots reply – “Yup. Me too.”)

While this is very much Leo’s story of redemption, Anna Faris’s depiction of Kate as a hard-working, earnest, but still wide-eyed naive single mom delivers the goods. Faris is known for her screwball comedies. But here she gives us a warm, harried, flawed, but genuinely likeable character. Regardless of whether we agree with what she’s done, we agree with her motivations.


Overboard is a silly, far-fetched story that we’ve seen in various forms many times before in storytelling. Despite the tale’s predictability, Overboard manages to touch our hearts by depicting a man’s arduous journey toward becoming his best self. The method by which this transformation occurs is heavy-handed and disturbing in a Beauty and the Beast kind of way. If you’re willing to overlook kidnapping and abuse as a means of helping someone change, this movie is for you. I give Overboard a rating of 3 Reels out of 5.

As mentioned earlier, the hero’s journey is almost textbook, with Leo’s accident on the boat propelling him (pardon the pun) onto his journey toward self-realization. His transformation is aided by the group of construction workers with whom he works, and also by Kate’s three kids who manage to squirm their way into Leo’s heart. Leo’s amnesia and subsequent self-discovery are wonderful exemplars of timeless tales of unknown hero identities becoming fully known in their richness and connectedness with the world. I give the heroes a rating of 3 Hero points out of 5.

Regarding archetypes, we have a clear example of psychologist Paul Moxnes’ family unit archetype consisting of Leo’s father (the patriarchal king), his evil sister (the dark princess), and his good sister. There is also the archetypal idea of the hero’s obliviousness about his true identity and his undergoing suffering to discover his authentic self. Then we have a very problematic archetype (which I’ll call a “darketype”), seen before in Beauty and the Beast, involving the idea of kidnapping someone long enough for them to fall in love with their kidnappers. Why this “darketype” exists really baffles me. These archetypes merit a score of 3 Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes:   Heroes:


Overboard is a lot of fun and Derbez and Faris make it work. I had fun the whole time. Everyone likes to see the rich and powerful taken down a peg, and Leo definitely has his day. The “amnesia” trope is impossible to believe, but if you can swallow that, the rest plays out in a very fun way. And if you can get over Leo’s “Stockholm Syndrome” – falling in love with Kate – then you’ll have fun, too. I give Overboard 3 out of 5 Reels.

Yes, this is a redemptive story for Leo. It’s possible only because Leo has selective memory about what he is entitled to as a rich man and gaps about being married. He also doesn’t seem to question the fact that virtually nothing in the house belongs to him. But we like to see our flawed hero become a better man. So I give Leo 3 out of 5 Heroes.

Finally, you’ve covered the archetypes very well. As you said, we have the Moxnes’ family unit with Leo as father, Kate as mother, and the children in play. And it’s the fulfillment of this family structure that completes Leo as a FATHER and HUSBAND. I give these archetypes 3 out of 5 Arcs.

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:

Ready Player One ••• 1/2

Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn
Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenplay: Zak Penn, Ernest Cline
Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 140 minutes
Release Date: March 29, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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

Greg, I’m READY to be the ONE who reviews this next movie with you.


It appears the ‘80s are cool again. Let’s recap.


It’s the year 2045 and much of the world lives in poverty and squalor. As an escape from this grim reality, everyone spends most of their time in OASIS, a virtual world in which players assume various virtual identities. The creator of OASIS, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), has recently died and has left the ultimate game for users to play. Whoever finds the Easter egg that he has hidden in OASIS wins the game and will inherit ownership of OASIS. Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), an 18-year-old living in Ohio, is intent on winning the game, but he is up against a vast army of IOI “sixers” led by the evil Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn).


In the OASIS, Wade is known as “Parzival” and he befriends “Artimis” (Olivia Cooke) who in real life is “Samantha.” Together, with his best friend “Aech” (Lena Waithe) and other friends “Sho” (Philip Zhao) and “Daito” (Win Morisaki) they form a team intent on discovering the secrets of the OASIS and keeping it from the hands of evil Sorrento.


Greg, Ready Player One is both an adventure story and a “cause” film with a not-so-subtle biting critique of current social issues. First, there is the message about the dangers of online addiction and over-dependency on computer gaming. Second, there is the dystopian future theme of the younger generation showing greater wisdom than their corrupt elders, wrapped also in a critique of the older generation’s single-minded craving for wealth, greed, and power.

There are many nice touches here with regard to good storytelling. The whole idea of living beneath the veil of avatars underscores the heroic theme of secret identities that we see in so many classic stories ranging from Superman to the fable of the Ugly Duckling. The secret identity theme also touches on the dreams we have to become something bigger and better than ourselves. Ready Player One is all about journeying away from fantasy into a deeper, truer reality, which in storytelling is always a journey toward knowledge of one’s deeper, truer self.


Scott, I was a bit disappointed in RPO. As is true of many popular films of the day, Stephen Spielberg has opted to create a visual spectacle rather than tell a compelling story. None of the characters get a very strong treatment because there are so many of them and because we’re constantly assaulted by computer graphics and gaming imagery. When you remove all the smoke and mirrors, you’re left with a very simple story and a rather trite message – “the real world is better than the virtual world.”

But the movie doesn’t deliver on that message. The real world Wade belongs to is bleak. And his becoming the master of the OASIS does nothing to change that. Sure, he closes the OASIS two days a week – but that doesn’t change the fact that people are suffering. It only means that they have to suffer in the real world 28% of the week.

If this movie is in fact a cautionary tale, then we should see the real world ramifications of living in the virtual word. We should see the causes of people preferring the virtual world. None of this is present in RPO – it is just another roller coaster ride. So buckle up.


We have another strong female hero in this film, Samantha, who cautions Wade about her avatar misrepresenting her so-called true self, which features a facial birthmark. Wade loves her for her inner qualities, an act of pure love and acceptance that redeems and transforms her. We know that she becomes transformed when she revises her avatar to include the same birthmark that she once despised. This film wisely doesn’t take the extreme step of advocating the abandonment of technology; rather, it encourages a “balanced” approach with online fun being part of life but certainly not all of life.

You’re right, Greg, that true heroes would transform the bleak “real” world in addition to winning the game of OASIS in the virtual world. Perhaps that’s the ideal plot of a follow-up movie.


I’d be more impressed if Sam were not beautiful in a classic sense. It’s easy to love someone’s soul when she looks like Olivia Cook. How might this story have turned if she looked like Steve Buscemi?

Ready Player One is a great visual romp through 1980s video game culture. As a child of the 80s I found it very entertaining and nostalgic. The computer imagery was amazing, well beyond anything we’ve seen up to now. The recreation of the hotel from The Shining was absolutely incredible and well worth the price of admission. The story was a little formulaic and lacked any sophistication. I give RPO 3 out of 5 Reels.

The heroes here are pretty simple. Wade is the classic boy warrior and Sam the female sidekick. We don’t really admire Wade for anything he’s done except be clever in the ways of finding clues. He seems to have a sense of morality, but we don’t see much that endears us to him (where’s his “save the cat” moment?). I give Wade 3 out of 5 Heroes.

There are plenty of archetypal characters. Halliday is the WIZARD, there’s a MENTOR in the Curator. Sorento represents the EVIL OLIGARCHY. We also have the QUEST TEAM that Wade leads and they support him in finding the final Easter Egg. Overall, I give them 3 out of 5 Arcs.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


Ready Player One represents another triumph of sorts for director Steven Speilberg, as it is an ambitious film with plenty of heart, solid sentimental storytelling, and terrific action sequences. The film falls short of achieving epic status because no truly new ground is broken here in terms of originality and impact. We do have plenty of endearing characters and a classic good versus evil set-up which won my heart. I give this film 4 Reels out of 5.

The hero’s journey for Wade and his friends is everything you’d want to see in classic storytelling. Every element of Joseph Campbell’s hero monomyth is present, from trials to allies to villainy and mentoring. This film is a rock solid hero adventure tale, with Wade displaying most of the “great eight” traits of heroes – intelligence, strength, inspiration, heart, selflessness, and resilience. I award Wade and company 4 Hero points out of 5.

Not surprisingly, the archetypes in this film are bold and moving. There is the underdog, Wade, doing battle with a far superior enemy force; there is the eccentric scientist in Halliday; there are wise children, a wise old man (Halliday’s partner); wizard-like characters in the virtual world; a curator serving as a guide, and of course a great love interest in Sam. Overall these archetypal element merit a score of 4 Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Game Night •••

Starring: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler
Director: John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein
Screenplay: Mark Perez
Comedy/Crime/Mystery, Rated: R
Running Time: 100 minutes
Release Date: February 23, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!


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

Greg, are you game to write this next review?


I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wanted to win. Let’s recap:


We meet Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams), two 30-somethings who fell in love and got married as a result of their passion for playing games such as charades, trivia pursuit, and jenga. They live next door to Gary (Jesse Plemons) an odd policeman separated from his wife. Gary once was invited to Max and Annie’s game nights but now he is no longer invited. Max’s brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) arrives in town, and we learn that Max feels insecure because he can never seem to measure up to his big brother.


Brooks, feeling the need to one-up Max again, invites Max and his friends to his house for a game night. He has paid for an “experience” where actors will break into his house and abduct one of them. Then, the rest must follow the clues to retrieve the kidnapped player. The winner receives a classic 1976 Corvette Stingray. But things are thrown for a loop when real kidnappers break in and take Brooks. Max and their friends still think it’s a game and go on a mission to find Brooks never knowing the danger they’re in.


Greg, this film is a clever prank-fest where in scene after scene we’re left guessing what’s a game and what isn’t, and it’s all in good fun. The performances are outstanding, especially Jesse Plemons in the role of creepy Gary who surprises us late in the movie with some clever hijinx. I was also impressed by the clever screenwriting, evidenced by the callback to Fight Club and in the way the various pieces of the storyline are resolved.

Lurking beneath the screwball elements of this dark comedy is a fairly nice hero’s journey. Our group ensemble of heroes are hurled onto the journey by the game set up by Brooks, and on another deeper level by the hijacking of the game by the film’s villains. We watch our heroes fall into a few predictable traps and then generate amusing ways to extricate themselves. You know it’s a comedy when a bullet through the arm is treated like an insect bite. Still, our heroes do triumph and we happily witness a transformed brotherly bond between Max and Brooks.


Yes, I was also favorably impressed with Game Night. You surely cannot take this film seriously in any way. But if you like other Jason Bateman films (Horrible Bosses, Office Christmas Party) then you will not be disappointed.

Max is an everyman. He’s a good husband, and a good friend. He has a problem many suburbanites have: what do you do when a neighbor couple gets divorced and the remaining “friend” is the one you don’t like?

Max also has a missing inner quality in that he competes with his older brother and is never measuring up. Even the latest game that Brooks has created is beyond anything he’s provided for his wife and friends. So the odyssey that he goes on to find and rescue his brother is really a search to mend this missing hurt. It’s a great platform for any story, but making this the basis for a comedy makes Game Night not just madcap fun, but engaging and endearing.


Let’s get right to the ratings. To put it simply, Game Night is loads of fun and throws in just enough surprises and twists to have kept my keen interest throughout the 90 minutes of airtime. There will be no Golden Globe or Oscar awards here, but don’t let that deter you from giving Game Night a viewing. If you’re in the mood for ridiculous madcap rompings and clever storytelling at the most superficial level, then this film is the elixir you’re looking for. I award it 3 Reels out of 5. I’ve already described the hero’s journey of our ensemble of heroes, and it’s solid enough to also earn 3 Hero points out of 5 as well.

There are several notable archetypes worth mentioning here. There is the social misfit in Gary, and as you point out Greg, it’s rewarding to witness Gary’s transformation from creepy lurker to a mainstream game-playing buddy with his neighbors. We also have the archetype of the perfect older sibling with whom our hero (seemingly) cannot compete. Then there is the exotic foreign villain, the Bulgarians, along with some throwaway actors who represent the face of this evil. Overall, I have to once again give these archetypes 3 Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


That pretty well sums it up, Scott. I liked this film. Especially the loving relationship between Max and his wife Annie. So often we see comedy derived from the tension between spouses. Like 2014’s Neighbors the plot and comedy are strengthened by their love and respect for each other. I give Game Night 3 out of 5 Reels.

Max and Brooks have a classic brother-feud. Max has revelations that pour salve on his feelings of inadequacy towards Brooks. It’s a nice hero’s journey that I can award 3 Heroes out of 5. And the archetypes are simple enough – HUSBAND, WIFE, OLDER BROTHER. They also get 3 out of 5 Arcs.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

The Commuter •••

Starring: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Screenplay: Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi
Action/Crime/Drama, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 105 minutes
Release Date: January 12, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!


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

Greg, looks like Liam Neeson took the last train to Clarksville.


I was very “taken” with his latest action film. Let’s recap:


We meet Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson), a former cop and insurance agent in New York City. One day, out of the blue, he gets fired. Rather than tell his wife, he walks directly to the local pub where he drowns his sorrows with his former police partner Alex (Patrick Wilson). MacCauley catches the train home and has an encounter with a woman name Joanna (Vera Farmiga) who challenges him to play a game. To earn $100,000, all he has to do is find someone on the train “who doesn’t belong” and place a homing device on this person’s travel bag.


MacCauley at first doesn’t believe the woman’s proposal. But then he finds the first $25,000 in the restroom. He knows he’s being watched, so he passes a note to a friend. When the friend gets off the train McCauley’s phone rings and Joanna tells him not to try that again – just as McCauley witnesses his friend thrown in front of a bus. Joanna warns him that his family is next if he doesn’t complete his mission. Now, MacCauley has to find the “missing person” and save his family before the train comes to its last stop.


Greg, The Commuter is a nice, taut thriller with plenty of intrigue and action. One thing I learned from watching this film is that for a 65 year-old man, Liam Neeson can apparently take a lot of punches and can land a few himself. I wonder how much longer his shelf-life as an action hero is going to last, as I’m beginning to worry about an elderly man physically manipulating train cars at high speed. This movie is far-fetched to be sure, and I’m placing it in the category of films that are enjoyable as long as you don’t think too much about how ridiculous they are.

As a scholar of heroism, I must say that I was impressed at the film’s end, when train passengers stepped up and said, “I’m Prynne”, thereby placing themselves in great peril in order to spare the life of an innocent woman. Supreme acts of selflessness and self-sacrifice are the inspiring ingredients of classic heroism, and I wanted to applaud. However, in this same scene, I had to work hard to turn my brain off as hundreds of wet newspaper pages somehow glued themselves to perfection on the windows of the train. It was all too convenient and groan-worthy, yet I still enjoyed the film’s climactic displays of heroism.


I had to laugh at that same moment, Scott. Just before Alex turns to the commuters I nudged my date in the ribs and whispered “I’m Spartacus I’m Spartacus” It was a moment that was telescoped way in advance and it tickled me pink to see it play out.

I am in full agreement with you on this one. This film stretches the suspense of disbelief to its limits. If you give in to the premise and just – excuse the pun – go along for the ride, you’ll have a good time.


This film taps into the classic archetype of the innocent man who, through no fault of his own, is targeted unfairly by unsavory people. We can all identify with MacCauley, as he represents the “everyman” who is simply doing his best to navigate his way through an unfair world that has fired him from his job and is now threatening his family. MacCauley tries to do the right thing yet discovers that even the police are conspiring against him.

We also see that MacCauley performs one honorable act after another, and that he is rewarded at the end of the film by returning to the police force. As a result of his heroism, he is now in a position to bestow further gifts to society, which is a wonderful element of the classic hero’s journey as described by Joseph Campbell. Overall it’s a nice hero’s journey containing all the ingredients of departure, initiation, and return.


We also see the family archetype played out here. MacCauley’s wife and son are put on display and used as leverage to push him into dark actions he would not otherwise perform. To add to the leverage is MacCauley as the “old guy put out to pasture.” He pines at one point “I’m 60 years old with a mortgage and college tuition to pay – who is going to hire me?” There’s the femme fatale in Joanna. And ultimately there is the the “damsel in distress” when MacCauley realizes that the object of his detection is a young girl, Prynne.


The Commuter isn’t a great movie but it does provide good solid, if not superficial, entertainment. Our hero is thrown into a supremely challenging situation and must dig deep to develop the resourcefulness needed for survival. There are a few preposterous moments that remind us that we’re watching a silly action movie, but Liam Neeson’s performance is strong enough that I could, for the most part, overlook these absurd departures from reality. The feel-good ending of the story also really carried the day. I give The Commuter 3 Reels out of 5.

Our hero’s journey here is rock solid, with MacCauley first undergoing a departure from his safe, familiar world, followed by his encounter with villains, obstacles, helpers, and life-altering experiences. Our hero acquires new insights about himself, his family, his former police colleagues, and his place in the world. He is forever transformed and bestows gifts to the world as a result of his harrowing journey. I give him a rating of 4 Hero points out of 5.

The archetypes in this story are numerous and varied. Greg, you and I each saw archetypes describing MacCauley, his role in the universe he inhabits, his nemesis Joanna, and the innocent woman around whom the plot revolves. These archetypes are portrayed effectively but none of them jumped out at me as exceptional. I’ll award them 3 archetype “arcs” out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


The Commuter is another in a long list of Liam Neeson films where an everyman saves one or more people with a “certain set of skills.” It’s enjoyable to watch, but it isn’t really great cinema. I’m beginning to think Liam Neeson is his own archetype. If you’re a fan of his type of movie, you’ll enjoy The Commuter. But otherwise you might find it is pretty unbelievable. I give this film 3 out of 5 Reels.

Neeson’s MacCauley is a decent hero. He’s moral and strong. But there’s nothing particularly interesting about him. I give him 3 out of 5 Heroes.

The archetypes are not that strong. The VILLAIN is hidden most of the time and is diluted because we think it’s Joanna when it’s actually his best friend. Finally, MacCauley arrests Joanna who warns him that the danger goes much deeper – alluding to a hidden villain. The FAMILY archetype is also hidden until the very end. We never really see the DAMSEL until the end of the film. There’s a lot hidden here. I give these archetypes just 3 Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes:   Heroes:

Molly’s Game •••

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

SPOILERS WITHIN!

 


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

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

 


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

 


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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:


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

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

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

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:

Wonder •••1/2

Starring: Jacob Tremblay, Owen Wilson, Izabela Vidovic
Director: Stephen Chbosky
Screenplay: Stephen Chbosky, Steve Conrad
Drama/Family, Rated: PG
Running Time: 113 minutes
Release Date: November 17, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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Scott, I wonder if you’ll review this week’s movie with me?


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

Maybe Wonder Woman should review it, Gregger. Get out the Kleenex and let’s recap.

 


We’re introduced to young 10-year-old Auggie (Jacob Tremblay). He was born with a congenital birth defect that has disfigured his face. He’s unusually bright, especially in the sciences, and has been home-schooled for his entire life. He’s about to go to private school so a trio of kids are showing him around before his first day of class. The kids are a little freaked out by his deformity but they’re friendly nevertheless. Auggie returns home and puts on his space helmet to hide in his make-believe world of outer space.


Auggie has two loving parents, Isabel (Julia Roberts), and Nate (Owen Wilson), and a sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) who feels neglected because her parents appear to be spending the majority of their time tending to Auggie. At school, Auggie befriends a boy named Jack (Noah Jupe) but soon they have a falling out when Auggie overhears Jack insulting Auggie’s appearance to other kids. Meanwhile, Via has a falling out with her best friend Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell), but after signing up for the school play Via falls in love with a boy named Justin (Nadji Jeter).


Scott, Wonder is light fare akin to an ABC Afterschool Special – not that there’s anything wrong with that. It reminds me of 1985’s Mask in many ways. Wonder seems to be aimed at younger audiences with its PG rating. The story is a fiction (contrary to Mask’s true underpinnings) which, for me, reduced its impact. It’s easy to contrive situations in fiction to prove a point – it’s much harder to withstand such prejudices when they are based in fact.

The structure of the movie is interesting as it presents the events from four different points of view. The action starts with Auggie’s entrance into school, through surviving his first major disappoint. Then, we turn to sister Via’s POV and we learn that the world revolves around Auggie leaving her to fend for herself. This could have been the source of great drama, but Via doesn’t have bitterness towards her brother. Instead, she has a deep love of her brother. Other POVs include Jack’s and Miranda’s. I enjoyed this revolving look at Auggie’s world.


Greg, I’d say Wonder exceeds a made-for-TV movie by a pretty wide margin. For starters, we have a couple of Hollywood heavyweights in Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts leading the charge here. More than that, we have excellent storytelling centered around a small vulnerable boy with an unconventional face whom everyone underestimates. It’s a classic underdog story that we’ve seen in many variations a thousand times before, and this one is particularly poignant. The fact that it is fiction does not diminish the film in any way.

Another theme emphasized in Wonder is the heroic theme of redemption. Most of the characters in this film find ways to atone for mistakes they’ve made that have hurt others. Isabel neglects Via and then promises to spend a day with her. Jack hurts Auggie badly and then bends over backward to make amends. Miranda dumps Via as a friend but then later sacrifices herself to allow Via to shine in the lead role of the school play. Julian (Bryce Gheisar) bullies Auggie and never redeems himself, thus solidifying his status as the story’s villain.


Auggie is a catalytic hero in that he changes the opinions of those around him. He starts out being shunned by his peers. And over time earns their trust and respect. But there is transformation for him as well as he starts out ashamed of his appearance and grows to understand that he is as he is – and anyone who has a problem really has a problem within themselves and not with him. His sister Via transforms from sitting in the background to Auggie’s needs and eventually comes to the fore as she steps on the stage and delivers a great performance in the high school play.


Greg, you’re right that transformations abound in this film. Auggie transforms from a frightened social outcast to a bold inspiration for others. In fact, he’s a stand-in for almost all of humanity, as I’m willing to bet that everyone at one time or another have felt like outliers unable to penetrate the mainstream. Via grows in her self-confidence. Her life once put on hold, Isabel finishes her masters thesis. Both Miranda and Jack discover the value of friendship. Auggie’s influence is the key to all of these transformations. It’s a classic theme in heroic storytelling for the most unlikely person to discover their treasure, which they then pass onto others.


Wonder is a wonderful story for youngsters. It’s PG rating is well-earned as there is little drama here. It’s a story of bullying and anti-bullying – which are popular topics today. I would prefer a story like this be based on true events because it is easy to conconct situations and resolutions in fiction. And in fact, we’ve seen better stories in such movies as Mask. I give Wonder 3 out of 5 Reels.

Auggie is a good hero. He has a disability that he overcomes through the power of his personality. He also has a competence in the sciences that endears us to him. He is surrounded by a loving family who act as his mentors. At school, he has a few friends who also mentor him in the special world of private school. I give Auggie 3 out of 5 Heroes.

As you mention, Scott, there are transformations for nearly every character in this story. I give them 4 out of 5 Deltas.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:


Wonder is a wonder of a movie designed expertly to tug at our hearts and give our tear-ducts a workout. This film along with Karate Kid are the two best cinematic depictions of the underdog archetype that I’ve ever encountered. I left the theater feeling hopeful that the darkness of humanity is beautifully redeemable. Wonder deserves 4 a rating of 4 Reels out of 5.

Our hero Auggie is a talented, delightful young kid who wins over the hearts of anyone willing and able to get past superficial anomalies in his appearance. Auggie plunges into the hero’s journey, encounters friends and enemies, finds ways to overcome obstacles, and emerges as a self-confident and socially skilled young man. His hero’s journey earns 4 Hero points out of 5.

Wonder is a cauldron of transformation, not just in Auggie but in all those he touches. Everyone around him grows up in some way and absorbs inspiration from our hero. Greg, we’ve reviewed movies in which the hero transforms, or in which the hero transforms others, but rarely are we treated to both personal and collective transformations in the same film. I award all these characters 5 transformative Delta points out of 5.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes: