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Hotel Artemis •••1/2

Starring: Jodie Foster, Sofia Boutella, Dave Bautista
Director: Drew Pearce
Screenplay: Drew Pearce
Action/Crime/Thriller, Rated: R
Running Time: 93 minutes
Release Date: June 8, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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

Greg, is this film a remake of Grand Budapest Hotel?


No, it’s like the Hotel California – you can check in but you can never check out. Let’s recap.


We meet two bank robbers, Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown) and Honolulu (Brian Tyree Henry) who unsuccessfully rob a bank vault with Honolulu getting shot in the process. Waikiki takes him to the Hotel Artemis, which is a secret hospital that treats high-level criminals. The hospital is run by a semi-elderly Nurse (Jodie Foster) and her hulking assistant Everest (Dave Bautista). This is no ordinary night at the hotel, as several other interesting guests arrive.


All the guests have code names based on exotic locations. We’re introduced to femme-fatale Nice (Sofia Boutella, who has history with Waikiki), and weasel Acapulco (Charlie Day). What Waikiki did not know is that his brother has stolen a pen-vault that contains millions of dollars worth of diamond owned by the Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum). It won’t be long before the Wolf King arrives and all hell breaks loose.


Greg, Hotel Artemis is a clever depiction of a not-too-distant-in-the-future dystopia, with rioting in the cities and organized criminals running amok. Initially I had trouble getting into this film and was about to write it off as lightweight fare, but things got interesting at the halfway point. On this night the hotel has attracted several memorable guests whose intentions are not pure – who would have anticipated such an eventuality at a criminal hospital?

This film works on the strength of its visuals — the hotel itself is an unforgettable character, with its vintage murals, elevators, dials, and accessories. Jodie Foster shines in her portrayal of a woman with a secret that tears at her heart; Sofia Boutella delivers a memorable performance as a ruthless hit-woman; Sterling Brown is a brave, loyal friend; and Dave Bautista basically plays the same likeable character that he plays in Guardians of the Galaxy. Even Jeff Goldblum gives this movie a playful boost. The ensemble cast pulls off a nice story with a satisfying ending.


Hotel Artemis is an unusual story. It’s all based on honor among thieves. There are rules at the Artemis: no guns, nobody kills anyone, no cops allowed, and nobody uses their real names. And, of course, rules are made to be broken and all of the rules do get broken. Things go awry when a cop who knows Nurse asks for help. Nurse lets her in because she knew her long-ago dead son. Waikiki fashions a gun from a 3-D printer. Eventually, Nice kills the Wolf King, and the cop exposes Nurse’s real name.

It’s hard to say who is the hero of this film. Nurse and Waikiki lead the story, but this is hardly a buddy story. It’s more of an ensemble treatment where everyone has something they desperately desire and something to hide. It’s the tension between these different goals that push the story along and make the characters relatable. Despite the fact that everyone is this story is in some way villainous, we pull for them to get what they want. And in the end, most of them do.


Hotel Artemis is a highly creative and enjoyable depiction of a dark future for Los Angeles — and presumably for the rest of the world. This film boasts a tremendously talented ensemble cast that carries us emotionally scene by scene. One sign of a successful movie is that it leaves me wanting more; I want to know more about the Nurse, about her son, and about the dark connection between her son and Wolf King. Not to mention more about Everest and how he developed such a deep loyalty to the Nurse and her cause. This film is not likely to win any awards but it’s still worth viewing. I give it 3 Reels out of 5.

The main hero in this ensemble is the Nurse, and her hero’s journey is proof that a hero doesn’t need to travel physically anywhere to go on her journey. The hero’s path is always a path toward inner discovery, and the Nurse must discover the truth about her son’s past and the nature of his demise. She takes risks, makes self-sacrifices, and in the end lives the life she is meant to live on her own terms. I give our hero a rating of 4 Heroes out of 5.

Archetypes abound in this film, many of them dark archetypes that I enjoy calling ‘darketypes’. The Nurse is the classic ‘healer’; Everest is the prototypical guardian of the Artemis galaxy; the Wolf King is the mastermind hero, and his son is the dark prince in Paul Moxnes’ deep role theory. Nice is more than a mere femme fatale — she is the most dangerous individual in Artemis, a true archetypal killing machine. All these archetypes are worthy of a rating of 3 Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


I might disagree with you on the awards front, Scott. This film has a lot of original special effects and offers a unique dystopian future. I can see Nebula awards for science fiction and even Golden Globe and Academy awards for the performances. I’m reminded of the Purge movie franchise. It’s a similar, bleak view of the future and has a similar dark feel. I give Hotel Artemis 4 out of 5 Reels.

As an ensemble cast, I see several anti-heroes. Nurse is performing illegal operations on criminals. She’s a benevolent character, but she’s lost her medical license because she fell into drugs and alcohol after the death of her son. Waikiki is a bank robber and a thief. But we admire him for his tenacious duty to his brother, Honolulu. Nice is a vicious assassin who seems to be heartless. But in the end, fights off a band of evil minions to help Nurse and Waikiki escape. I give this cast of anti-heroes 4 out of 5 Heroes.

You’ve nailed the Archetypes in this movie, Scott. But I liked them more than you and award them 4 out of 5 Arcs.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Adrift •••

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

SPOILERS WITHIN!


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


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

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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


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

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

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Solo: A Star Wars Story ••••

Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke
Director: Ron Howard
Screenplay: Jonathan Kasdan, Lawrence Kasdan
Action/Adventure/Fantasy, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 135 minutes
Release Date: May 25, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!


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

Greg, would you like to review this movie together or go solo?


Let’s see if this ‘millennial’ falcon stands up to the rest of the franchise. Time to recap.


The galaxy is in turmoil with gangsters and warlords fighting to gain economic and political control. Looking to escape a chaotic planet, Han (Alden Ehrenreich) and his lover Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) bribe a local official to gain passage on a transport ship, but only Han is able to escape. Three years later, he is an infantryman for the Empire and encounters a gang of criminals led by Beckett (Woody Harrelson).


Having befriended the Wookie Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), the two join forces with Becket and his friends to rob the Empire of the powerful fuel “coaxium” for the evil Crimson Dawn lead by Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). But things go awry when the radical group Enfys Nest interfere and the shipment is destroyed. Now, Becket, Han, and Chewbacca must face Vos and find a way to replace the shipment of fuel.


Greg, I’m not a Star Wars fan and yet I found Solo: A Star Wars Story to be thoroughly enjoyable. Alden Ehrenreich is no Harrison Ford, and yet he does a serviceable job creating a character who somewhat resembles a young Han Solo. His motive throughout the film is to “get the girl”, and even when he finds Qi’ra his goal centers re-winning her heart after a three year separation. Woody Harrelson’s complex character of Beckett is one of the true highlights of this movie. Beckett is one of those complicated people we admire one minute and hate the next – and all for plausible reasons.

This movie does a nice job of explaining the origins of Solo’s last name, as well as depicting how Solo meets and befriends Chewbacca. Solo isn’t so much a mercenary (as we might have expected) as he is a love-struck young man who will do anything to find Qi’ra and then (re-)win her heart. His superb piloting skills save his butt several times, and we’re not terribly surprised to see him go toe-to-toe with Beckett and come out on top. In all, the story works and director Ron Howard deserves credit for crafting an entertaining story out of the various elements of Solo’s character.


After the last three Star Wars films, I was afraid Solo would devolve into a child-appropriate story with lots of cute creatures suitable for sale as plush toys. But Solo turned out to be a pretty gritty story of a young man’s desire to be free and then falling into a life of moral ambiguity. While the film very much bent over backwards to fill in the blanks of Solo’s mythology (like the infamous ‘Kessel run in 12 Parsecs’ comment – and proves that when necessary, Han shoots first), it also found some deep and complex characters. And there weren’t any cute creatures to turn into cartoonesque toys.


Because Star Wars is derived directly from Joseph Campbell’s archetype-filled analysis of the hero’s journey, there are no shortage of archetypes to chew(bacca) on here. Han Solo is your classic rogue soldier, an independent agent who pretends to have no moral compass while his actions prove otherwise. There is also the mastermind villain, the baddest of bad guys who outsources his evil with an army of henchmen. We discuss the different layers of villainy in our last book, Reel Heroes & Villains. Qi’ra, I’m happy to say, defies female convention in the movies by showing a savvy and strength that ultimately saves the day in the end. She is much more than a sidekick and occupies a dual archetype of love interest to the hero as well as co-hero to Han.


Solo: A Star Wars Story does a great job of filling in the blanks of Han’s story – including his ‘frenemy’ status with Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover). There’s plenty of action, as well as a well-thought-out heist story. Ehrenreich channels his inner Harrison Ford to portray a devil-may-care Han Solo that we both recognize and come to know as a young man. I give Solo 4 out of 5 Reels.

Han is an interesting hero. He is devious and cunning, and he seems to apply his skills not just to what benefits himself, but to the underdog as well. His motivation for the majority of the film is to return to Qi’ra and save her. He takes on a mentor in Beckett and quickly learns the lessons of the mercenary lifestyle. We come to learn that Han started out as a compassionate character and only through his difficult choices becomes the cynical scoundrel we meet in Episode IV. I give Han Solo 4 out of 5 Heroes.

There are a multitude of archetypes here. Han as the URCHIN becomes the MERCENARY. Beckett is a DARK MENTOR. Qi’ra is both the DAMSEL IN DISTRESS and the FEMME FATALE. Lando, plays the role of the FAT MAN (the owner of a cantina and con man), though he is obviously fit for fashion.  Dryden Vos is the HENCHMAN reporting to a higher MASTERMIND. I give these archetypes 4 out of 5 Arcs.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


Solo: A Star Wars Story gives us a wonderful backstory about the early adult life of Han Solo, one of the most beloved characters in the Star Wars universe. The filmmakers here decided wisely to make Han’s motives less mercenary and more romance-based; doing so endows him with more noble, heroic qualities of selflessness and self-sacrifice. Woody Harrelson and Emelia Clarke deserve kudos for  endowing this film with heart, soul, and grit. Letting go of the idea that Alden Ehrenreich could “become” Harrison Ford allowed me to enjoy Ehrenreich on his own merits. This film is a winner, earning a rating of 4 Reels out of 5.

Han’s hero’s journey is an exciting adventure wrapped in intrigue, as his goal is to win the girl whose heart he once won but whose character may have changed during their three-year separation. Like all good heroes, Han enlists the aid of several allies who help him defeat the bad guys, not to mention the traitorous Beckett. Most important, his helpers help him win back Qi’ra’s heart. Our hero has all of the ‘great eight’ traits of heroes – he’s smart, strong, charismatic, reliable, caring, resilient, selfless, and inspiring. I give Han Solo a rating of 4 Hero points out of 5.

We’ve already shared our views of the archetypes, so I’ll just give my score of 4 Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

A Quiet Place ••• 1/2

Starring:  Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds
Director: John Krasinski
Screenplay: Bryan Woods, Scott Beck
Drama/Horror/Sci-Fi, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 90 minutes
Release Date: April 6, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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

Greg, it’s time to review Simon & Garfunkel’s film version of ‘Sounds of Silence’.


i just hope to find a Quiet Place to review this film. Let’s recap:


The year is 2020, and most of the earth’s population has been decimated by vicious creatures called the Death Angels. With hyper-sensitive hearing, these creatures attack and kill anything that emits the slightest sound. The Abbott family has managed to survive, thanks to their mastery of ASL (American Sign Language). There is Lee Abbott (John Krasinski), his wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt), and their three children Regan (Millicent Simmonds), Noah (Noah Jupe), and Beau (Cade Woodward).


While Lee and son Beau are on an excursion, Evelyn goes into labor and steps on a nail and emits a noise that attracts the beasts. Now it’s a game of cat and mouse as the Abbotts must evade the death angels while keeping silent.


Greg, it’s hard to imagine crafting a decent movie that is 90% silence, but that’s what A Quiet Place manages to accomplish. We’ve seen this villain before in the movies, a pure-evil animal-like villain in the same vein as Jaws and Alien. Only the most empathetic of us will show compassion for a creature than indiscriminately kills and eats anyone who makes a sound. And only the most foolish characters in a movie would choose to have a baby in a world with creatures that will devour a crying baby in mere seconds.

Despite a rather boring pure evil villain and the foolhardiness of the baby, this movie works rather well as a horror story. The creature is bloodthirsty and relentless, and as in every scary movie, there are plenty of false scares and predictable moments of suspense. Our main hero, Lee, is compelled to invent a device that will destroy the creatures, and our secondary family member heroes all manage to overcome their fears and transform into courageous, resourceful threats to the creatures.


I was favorably impressed with A Quiet Place. Unlike typical horror stories, this is not a tale strictly of fright, but a tale of survival and family. Young Regan blames herself for her youngest brother’s demise and imagines her father also blames her. The tension between father and daughter is exacerbated by the typical angst of a teen trying to become independent.

At first the fact that Regan was hearing impaired seemed like an ironic twist. Later we discover that her disability becomes the key to defeating the Death Angels. While the actress who plays Regan happens to be deaf, this is not what separates her from other young actresses. Millicent Simmonds virtually carries this film with her emotive face. She has only one other acting credit before A Quiet Place, but she delivers in a film that requires a strong emotive presence. Truly, she is the breakout star of this film – standing toe-to-toe with the likes of Emily Blunt and John Krasinski.


This movie heightened the suspense by having Evelyn deliver her baby on her own, within “earshot” of a Death Angel lurking in her house. Somehow she does it noiselessly and without any pain medication, which has to be the most remarkable feat in human history. The birthing scene had me on the edge of my seat, as did the film’s climax requiring Lee to sacrifice his life to save his children. It’s good to see good old fashioned ingenuity win the day in defeating these “eerie” beasts (pun intended).

By the way, the FX crew did a fabulous job creating a brand new villain with elaborate ears that were (fortunately) no way reminiscent of the Ferengi in Star Trek. These beasts were indeed terrifying and Krasinski deserves kudos for steering this cinematic ship with sharpness and alacrity. In terms of archetypes, we’ve certainly got the pure evil villain here, along with the scientist hero, the damsel in distress, the budding teen girl with attitude, and a small child who you know is going to do something foolish to attract trouble.


A Quiet Place delivers on both suspense and emotional levels. The actors do an amazing job of performing without much dialog – keeping us interested by their actions rather than their words. I give it 4 out of 5 Reels.

This is very much an ensemble cast with the father as the leader. In our book Reel Heroes and Villains we discuss the family ensemble and how important it is. We are also guided by the Moxnes model which uses the family as a paradigm. I give them 4 out of 5 Heroes.

Again, as an archetype, the FAMILY saves that day. Otherwise, we only see THE PURE EVIL monsters. Usually, this is a boring trope, but it works well here as it forces the family to work together. And what family would be complete without the ANGST-RIDDEN TEEN. I give these archetypes 3 out of 5 Arcs.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


A Quiet Place is one of the best films in the horror genre that I’ve seen in a few years. This innovative new villainous menace brings a taut, quiet urgency to virtually every scene in the movie. The production, direction, and casting of A Quiet Place is just about perfect, although it’s pretty clear that the only reason the Abbotts decided to have a baby was for me to lose 10 years of my life in fright during the baby’s delivery. I give this movie 3 Reels out of 5.

The hero’s journey appears in bold relief here as the family is compelled to transform the way the think, move, and survive in this new dystopian world. Most importantly, Lee’s ability to construct a device capable of defeating these ear-monsters is the culmination of the journey for his family and his gift to humanity. I award these heroes 4 Hero points out of 5.

We’ve reviewed the many archetypes in the film, and I agree with you Greg that a rating of 3 archetype Arc points out of 5 seems about right.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Unsane ••••

Starring: Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharoah
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Screenplay: Jonathan Bernstein, James Greer
Horror/Thriller, Rated: R
Running Time: 98 minutes
Release Date: March 23, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!


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

Greg, if 7-up is the un-cola, could Dr. Pepper be the un-sanity?


Um… Ok. Let’s take a look at a veiled take-down of the mental health profession as we review Unsane.


We meet young Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy), a woman who has recently moved 500 miles away from her hometown and is trying to establish a new life. She is depressed and seeks help from a psychiatrist, who commits Sawyer against her will to a mental institution. Sawyer’s efforts to escape only serve to convince the staff that she requires even more institutionalization. Her only friend in this hospital is a man named Nate (Jay Pharoah), who is spending four weeks there to recover from his opioid addiction.


Sawyer has given in to the fact that she will have to spend a week held against her will, when she meets an orderly, George, who she claims is her stalker, David Strine (Walton Goggins). Nobody believes her, least of all the audience. Sawyer is paranoid and explosively violent. But soon, String drugs Sawyer and we’re all in on it – Strine has followed Sawyer from Boston and is stalking her even in captivity. Now, Sawyer has to find a way out of her mental prison and escape this dangerous man.


Greg, Unsane gives us a suspenseful depiction of a young woman’s involuntary incarceration in a mental hospital. This movie is packed with villains. There is the deranged stalker who makes life miserable for our hero. There are the evil hospital administrators who knowingly imprison Sawyer for profit. There is also the American healthcare system that incentivizes hospitals to ensnare captive victims such as our hero. This film is disturbing yet effective, and giant kudos go to Claire Foy who does a terrific job playing a tormented hero.

This is as dark a hero’s journey as we’ve ever seen, Greg. At the outset of the story we see that our hero is struggling emotionally and socially. Attempting to get help from a psychiatrist totally backfires on her, and then we learn that her crazed stalker is in charge of dispensing her medications. She gets help from her mother and from Nate, both of whom are soon eliminated by the stalker. This is one of those films where the hero is left completely on her own and must summon inner reserves necessary to vanquish the villain. Sawyer musters the courage and grit to outwit her nemesis. Is she transformed by her harrowing experience?

The film’s final scene suggests that she is not transformed, that she remains a slave to her inner demons. This lack of transformation represents a deviation from the normal hero story pattern, and I think it was done intentionally to underscore the deep scarring of sexual violence in our society. Sawyer should most certainly not simply go on with her life as if nothing had happened. To do so would diminish the trauma and seriousness of this deep societal problem.


Scott, this movie gave me flashbacks to Misery. We have an unwelcome admirer who uses a medical condition to trap our hero. There’s even a scene where the villain, Strine, hobbles our hero by smashing her ankles with a hammer.

Otherwise, I thought this a skillfully played ‘cause’ film – a film that wants to promote a cause through storytelling. Unlike other cause films (such as 2016 The Promise which did a terrible job of exposing Armenian genocide), Unsane focuses on delivering a psychological thriller while at the same time exposing corruption in the mental health system. Unsane shines a light on mental health at a time when there is much lip-service paid to it in the United States.


Unsane is a first-rate thriller that had me on the edge of my seat and had my heart pounding. It is predictable in spots – do we ever doubt that Nate will bite the dust? But despite a few lapses, Unsane soars on the strength of its star, Claire Foy. She shines in the role and gives us a searingly convincing victim of stalking and harassment. Unsane deserves a rating of 4 Reels out of 5.

As I’ve noted, Sawyer’s hero’s journey is among the darkest and grimmest we’ve seen in quite a while. We just reviewed Tomb Raider and commended the physicality of its star Alicia Vikander. In Unsane, similar commendations go to Claire Foy, who exudes a remarkable physical presence in combating her fellow patients, hospital staff, and stalker. Sawyer also has many of the Great Eight traits of heroes — she is smart, strong, resilient, reliable, and inspiring. Is she caring and selfless, too? Yes, as she shows compassion for her mother and for Nate. I give her 4 Hero points out of 5.

Several archetypes do stand out in this film: the innocent victim, the evil corporation, the deranged stalker, the guilt-mongering mother, and the slain ally to the hero. I award them 3 archetype Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


Unsane is an interesting movie for a couple of reasons. First, it has long uncut scenes of mostly dialog. Second, it was filmed completely on an iPhone 7 by writer/director Steven Soderbergh. Soderbergh is known for creating minimalistic and experimental works. See his project Mosaic – a choose-your-own adventure for mobile viewers. I was impressed with the accomplishment of creating a good psychological thriller with a minimum of overhead. I give Unsane 4 out of 5 Reels.

Sawyer is the epitome of the unreliable narrator. She is psychologically damaged. And she very well should have been committed for observation. But when she sees her stalker nobody, not even we, believe her. Even though we know she is damaged, we are pulling for her because we see she is strong and resilient – two qualities we look for in a hero. I give her 4 out of 5 Heroes.

For archetypes, I’ll see your INNOCENT VICTIM and raise you a WITLESS DOCTOR who is a COG IN THE MACHINE along with the EVIL ADMINISTRATOR. I give them 3 out of 5 Arcs.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Tomb Raider •••

Starring: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins
Director: Roar Uthaug
Screenplay: Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Alastair Siddons
Action/Adventure, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 118 minutes
Release Date: March 16, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!


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

Greg, right now I feel like raiding the refrigerator.


Resist the urge, Scott, because Lara Croft is about to do her best Indiana Jones impression. Let’s recap:


We meet Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander), a young woman who lost her father (Dominic West) seven years earlier. She’s never quite accepted that he’s dead and refuses to sign legal papers entitling her to her inheritance. One day she is about to sign the papers but is given a clue left by her father which leads her to his secret office. There she discovers that her father had been researching the island of Himiko, where the evil Queen of Yamatai is said to have been entombed.


She travels to China and enlists the aid of boat captain Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), who sails her to Himiko where they crash land. They encounter Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins) who enslaves them and puts them to work mining for Yamatai’s tomb. She escapes and finds her father who has been thwarting Vogel’s plan for the last seven years. And now she determines to steal Vogel’s satellite phone and get her father, Ren, and herself off the island.


Greg, it’s hard to believe that 37 years have passed since Raiders of the Lost Ark appeared on the scene, and yet here we are still watching movies that are derivative of this classic film. Tomb Raider isn’t a bad movie, it’s just a movie that we’ve seen before in many variations. On the bright side, we’re treated to a great performance from Alicia Vikander whose athleticism and charisma are on full display in her portrayal of Lara Croft. On the not-so-bright side, the story is formulaic and predictable, reminding us that the recycling of old ideas can only take a movie so far.

There certainly is a vivid hero’s journey awaiting our hero Lara Croft. Her father’s disappearance hurls her onto her journey, which first consists of angry reckless rebellion. Lara becomes empowered when her father leaves her clues to his whereabouts, and her journey to Himiko tests her mentally, physically, and emotionally. She displays epic amounts of resourcefulness and transforms herself into someone greater than her father, which is exactly the pathway to enlightenment that what we want to see in any good hero story.


This Lara Croft is not the same hero we met in Angelina Jolie’s 2001 incarnation of Tomb Raider. In 2001, Lara is a fully-formed hero – in more ways than one. She is already an adventurer who has a large fortune and wields all kinds of weapons. And she was played by a woman who resembles the video game character with long legs and large breasts.

To the director’s credit, Vikander’s Croft is a leaner, more athletic, younger woman. She has eschewed her father’s fortunes and is still in fight training. In the opening scenes we see her defeated by another woman fighter – so this Lara Croft has a ways to go before she’s a complete hero. In fact, Tomb Raider is an origin story for Lara Croft. It isn’t until she realizes that her father may be alive that she goes on the journey that turns her into the adventurer she must be.

However, this is as far as the movie goes. The vast majority of this film plays out like a video game. There is a succession of puzzles and clues that must be solved to get to the next stage of the movie. This makes for a rather plot-less presentation and made me feel as if Tomb Raider is a mere advertisement for an upcoming video game release.


Croft’s journey is full of peril at every turn, requiring her to summon the courage, grit, and resourcefulness that every hero needs to complete her mission. Her father is her mentor and she realizes that she must outgrow him in almost every way to bring them both home safely. Because I’m not a fan of the video game, I had trouble appreciating all the different stages of the journey that correspond to game-challenges. I also had trouble maintaining any interest in all the hazards and secret buttons and gimmicks in the cave. We’ve seen this far too many times in the movies.

There are plenty of rich archetypes in this film. Once again we have the missing father and the orphan child who strives to overcome her family deficit. Lara is a misfit, an underdog who nobody expects to succeed. There is also plenty of magic in the story, and with it is what I will call the myth of pure evil. This is one aspect of the movie that I applaud, namely, the evil demon woman of Himiko turns out not to be evil but infected with a hideous disease. It’s a nice surprising turn of events in a movie that is otherwise predictable.


Tomb Raider was an enjoyable, if predictable film. While it doesn’t offer all the glitz of contemporary action-adventure films, I enjoyed the return to Indiana Jones-type storytelling. I agree with you, Scott, that this film had a few too many flashbacks to Raiders of the Lost Ark. But for a modern, younger audience who haven’t seen those films, it might be novel. I give Tomb Raider 3 out of 5 Reels.

Lara Croft is a hero cut from the same mold as Katniss from Hunger Games and Tris from Divergent. While I’m a little tired of women being limited to bows and arrows (Katniss, Merida from Brave, Neytiri from Avatar, Mulan, to name just a few), I was happy to find she was independent and strong. I give Lara Croft 4 out of 5 Heroes.

Yet again, we’re presented with the ABSENT FATHER archetype that we see in a lot of female-centric films (see Molly’s Game, A Wrinkle in Time). I’d like to see a different device in the future. Surely young women have more obstacles to overcome than neglectful men. You’ve already named the ORPHAN CHILD (which is a staple in Disney Princess films) and the PURE EVIL VILLAIN. Happily, there was also the FALLEN FRIEND in Vogel and the SIDEKICK FRIEND in Lu Ren. I give these archetypes 3 out of 5 Arcs.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


You’re right, Greg, about Tomb Raider being fun for a younger audience that has never seen any of the Indiana Jones movies. There is a fresh adventurous spirit to this film, and Alicia Vikander won me over with her bold, brash physicality and determination. This movie will win no awards but it is two hours of good mindless fun. Like you, I give it 3 Reels out of 5.

Lara Croft’s journey is packed full of snares and tribulations that require her to adapt and grow in the ways that every good hero should. She has all eight traits of the “great eight” traits of heroes: She is strong, smart, resilient, reliable, charismatic, selfless, caring, and inspiring. I award her 4 Hero points out of 5. With regard to archetypes, Tomb Raider has more than its share of rich archetypal images. We’ve already reviewed them, and so I’ll give my rating of 3 archetype Arcs out of 5.

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:

Red Sparrow ••••

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts
Director: Francis Lawrence
Screenplay: Justin Haythe, Jason Matthews
Drama/Mystery/Thriller, Rated: R
Running Time: 140 minutes
Release Date: March 2, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!


First there was Black Panther and now a Red Sparrow.


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

What’s next, Green Lantern? Let’s recap.


We’re introduced to ballerina Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence). She is at the top of her game when an on-stage accident breaks her leg and ruins her career. Enter her uncle, Vanya Eborov (Matthias Schoenaerts). He’s the head of Russian intelligence and wants her to seduce a Russian politician and swipe his phone for evidence. When she gets the man to his room, an agent comes in through the window and strangles him dead. Now Dominika knows too much. So her uncle gives her an option to become a “Sparrow” – a deadly agent who uses sex to influence enemies of the state.


Dominika chooses to work for her uncle, as the alternative could possibly mean her own death. Her sparrow training reveals her toughness and especially a keen ability to read people’s motives. Uncle Vanya assigns her to the task of “befriending” American CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton), who has established a relationship with a Russian mole in the Russian intelligence agency. Complications arise when Dominika senses Nate’s inherent goodness and becomes tempted to betray her Uncle.


Scott, I was prepared for this movie to be another like 2017’s Atomic Blonde or even 2010’s Salt – both of which featured leading ladies in pure action-adventure, but very little plot. Red Sparrow surprised and enthused me with it’s strong story interlaced with action-as-needed.

The plot plays out in a typical Bourne-esque way with our hero going undercover and befriending Nash. But along the way we see clues to the final twist that makes it all worthwhile. We see Dominika picking up evidence, or plant suspicions that we think are inconsequential. But in the end, she’s plotting her revenge on her uncle and her eventual escape from the Red Sparrows. Her uncle tells her that she must “do anything and everything to succeed in her mission.” What he doesn’t know is that her mission is to escape him.


Greg, Red Sparrow is of the best movies in the spy-thriller genre that we’ve seen in years. Jennifer Lawrence sizzles on the screen, and her sizzle derives from a constellation of heroic factors, most notably her strength, resourcefulness, courage, resilience, and adaptability. Once again Hollywood gives us a woman hero who is stronger and smarter than all of her male counterparts. I understand there are some criticisms of the film based on the exploitation of Dominika’s sexuality. These critics have a point in that a woman’s heroism should be no more based on her sexuality than a man’s should. A notable recent example is Wonder Woman, which showcases a female hero who reveals her best heroic self without resorting to any sexual themes.

I love your phrase, “action-as-needed” to describe what we encounter in this film. However, having said that, we witness one of the most harrowing torture scenes we’ve encountered in the movies in years. Were these unconsented skin-grafts needed? Or were we shown too much pain and gore? I can appreciate the filmmakers’ conundrum here, as audiences have come to expect bathtubs of blood and anything less is tame and lame. For me, the most important element of the movie that makes it work is the hero’s journey, and my goodness, Dominika is sent on a rich, dynamic, and roller-coaster of a journey that would have made Joseph Campbell proud.


Dominika is as heroic as they come. She lies, cheats, and steals to get her way. All the time we think she’s trying to manipulate her American accomplice Nash, she’s really laying the groundwork for a greater plan. So while she has the power, authenticity, and morality of a hero – she has control of the dark side of a villain.

While I hear your concern about the overt sexuality in the film – I think what’s important is that Dominika never gives up agency of her body. In one scene she is attacked in the shower and beats her fellow student to a pulp. When she’s told she should have let him have his way – she is instructed to strip down and “give him what he wants.” She obeys – disrobing in front of her entire class. But when the man approaches her, she commands him to take her. He cannot perform and she reveals what he really wants: “Power.” Dominika was in control of all the men around her, and only gave her body when she decided she wanted to.


With its intriguing plotline and unforgettable heroes and villains, Red Sparrow held my full interest and earns high marks for its style, steam and sizzle. Jennifer Lawrence shows us some new range and flexes her acting chops in nearly every scene. This film deserves credit for delivering an ending that surprised and delighted me. Were there flaws? Yes, the Russian stereotype as cold and robotic is in full force here, and Nate, our hero’s male love interest, is just a bit too perfect. Still, I was very much entertained and have no problem awarding this film 4 Reels out of 5.

Dominika’s hero’s journey begins with her leg being deliberately shattered, an “accident” likely ordered by her nefarious uncle. From there she descends into one unthinkably painful circumstance after another, yet she adapts brilliantly, usually staying one step ahead of the dangers around her. Nash assists her yet also nearly gets her killed, and in the end Dominika’s brilliant strategy for extricating herself from her uncle is the stuff of heroism at its finest. I give our Russian hero 4 Hero points out of 5.

There are plenty of archetypes to see here as well. We have the strong fem-fatale in Dominika; an evil uncle that Norwegian psychologist Paul Moxnes has identified as a “dark prince” in storytelling; a pure evil Red Sparrow teacher and psychopathic Russian torturer; and Dominika’s inept boss who Dominika outwits. Overall, these archetypes work quite well and earn a rating of 3 Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


Red Sparrow delivers a suspenseful story filled with intrigue and an unexpected twist. The violence plays into the story rather than strictly for spectacle. I give Red Sparrow 4 out of 5 Reels.

Dominika is strong and competent – qualities we look for in a hero. As well has mastering the negative traits of a villain (lying, deceit, and torture) to get what she needs. In the end she vanquishes the villain and saves her mother. She is a classic hero and I give her 4 out of 5 Heroes.

We see several archetypes including the EVIL UNCLE in Vanya, the WOUNDED MOTHER, and the BENEFICENT AGENT OF GOOD in Nash. I give them 3 out of 5 Arcs.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Darkest Hour •••1/2

Starring: Gary Oldman, Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas
Director: Joe Wright
Screenplay: Anthony McCarten
Biography/Drama/History, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 125 minutes
Release Date: December 22, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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

Greg, we just saw film that sheds light on a darkest hour.


It’s the second film this year about the Dunkirk rescue. Let’s recap.


In mid-May of 1940. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s (Ronald Pickup) appeasement policy with Hitler has proven unsuccessful, with German forces now streaming into Belgium, the Netherlands, and France. Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) has just been appointed the new Prime Minister. He is impatient with his new secretary, Miss Layton (Lily James) and he must have weekly lunches with King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn), who is skeptical of Churchill’s policies.


Churchill is sure that Hitler will not honor any terms of surrender that Brittain may offer. He assembles a cabinet of men who are not entirely friendly to Chamberlain because he wants honest opinions – not yes men. In particular Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane) is pushing for an agreement with Hitler. The totality of Britain’s army – some 300,000 men are stuck on the shore of Dunkirk, France – with the German army closing in fast. Chamberlain has to come up with a plan to rescue his men and convert the minds of Parliament before Hitler slaughters his army.


Greg, Darkest Hour is reminiscent of that extraordinary 2012 movie Lincoln that garnered multiple Best Picture awards. Both films focus on remarkable leadership during times of national crisis, and both offer heavy emphasis on dialogue, negotiation, and inner struggle. While I wouldn’t place Darkest Hour in the same stratosphere of excellence as Lincoln, it is an extremely worthy micro-biopic that showcases the talent of its star, Gary Oldman, whose depiction of Churchill’s eccentricity and volatility are right on the mark.

I use the term ‘micro-biopic’ because we are only given a glimpse of a three-week window in the life of Winston Churchill. During these crucial weeks, Chamberlain has been ousted as Prime Minister, Churchill has been appointed, and advancing German armies in Europe must be dealt with. It is a pivotal moment in European history and this film centers of Churchill’s transformative resolve to fight the Nazis in lieu of negotiating with them. As the audience, we know the right way to proceed but only with our 20-20 hindsight. This movie teaches us that peace at all costs can be a risky ideology.


Darkest Hour is a wonderful film with a very endearing performance by Gary Oldman. While historical images of Churchill present a bulldog of a man, the character we see here is humble, uncertain, and deeply pained by his loss at Gallipoli. He starts the film with virtually no one in his corner – least of all the king. He event doubts himself at his “Darkest Hour” and gains strength from commoners on a subway train. Then he rouses himself and orchestrates one the greatest rescues in human history. Finally, he wins the hearts of Parliament and sets Britain on a difficult but ultimately victorious path. Regardless of the historical accuracy of the film, it is a compelling hero’s journey.


That’s my main complaint about the film, namely, that Churchill’s unorthodox decision to meet with the commoners on the London Underground never really happened. This turns out to be the critical moment when Churchill recognizes that the public has a steely resolve to defeat Hitler rather than appease him. It’s a transformative incident, as the Prime Minister now know what he must do. Too bad it never happened that way. While including this fictitious scene makes for a better drama, I would have preferred a more veridical account of history.

So in this micro-slice of Churchill’s hero’s journey, we’re privy to his transformation along with his transformative effect on others. The latter is illustrated in Churchill’s famous “We will fight them on the beaches” speech. His words were so rousing that even Churchill’s detractors (such as Chamberlain) were silenced and forever rendered irrelevant. Churchill’s heroism proves that heroes do not have to be tall, handsome, and conventionally charismatic to be effective. They can find their heroic voice in their own idiosyncratic way, much like Lincoln did in the US nearly a century earlier.


Darkest Hour is a well-produced slice of the life of Winston Churchill during the darkest hours of Britain’s history. Gary Oldman’s performance is Oscar-worthy. As is typical of such biopics, Churchill changes the hearts and minds of others more than he himself changes. As the audience we know what the historical events will be – but what we don’t know is the behind-the-scenes story. I give Darkest Hour 3 out of 5 Reels for an average movie-going experience. Winston Churchill gets a full 5 Heroes out of 5 for standing in the face of villainy and doing what had to be done to save his country and ultimately the world. And finally, the Parliament gets 3 out of 5 Deltas for their transformation due to Winston’s steadfast leadership.

Movie: Transformation: Heroes:


I agree that Darkest Hour does an exemplary job of chronicling how an iconic leader met the challenges of a pivotal moment in world history. As with another recent movie, Lady Bird, this story offers but a tiny slice of our hero’s life, yet it still manages to show us the hero’s ability to transformatively rise above severe challenges. Gary Oldman did the near-impossible by portraying Churchill’s eccentricity and boldness so effectively. I award this film 4 Reels out of 5.

Churchill’s heroism is impressive in that he did what the best heroes among us manage to do, namely, find a way to do the right thing despite significant social pressures to do the wrong thing. His transformation can best be described as a metamorphosis from uncertainty to certainty, from hesitation to resolve, from thoughts of condoning evil to fighting it aggressively. As such I award him 4 Heroes out of 5 and 4 transformative Deltas out of 5, too.

Movie: Transformation: Heroes:

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri ••••1/2

Starring: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell
Director: Martin McDonagh
Screenplay: Martin McDonagh
Comedy/Crime/Drama, Rated: R
Running Time: 115 minutes
Release Date: November 10, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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

Greg, did you ever think they’d make a movie about billboards?

 


There’s advertising everywhere, even in movies. Let’s recap:


We meet Mildred (Frances McDormand), a woman grieving her daughter’s rape and murder. She’s also upset that the police in her hometown of Ebbing, Missouri, are not making any progress in apprehending the perpetrator. She rents three old unused billboards just outside of town, and on them she displays in big letters, “Raped while dying”, “And still no arrests”, and “How come, Chief Willoughby?” Deputy Dixon (Sam Rockwell), Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), and many of the town’s citizens want Mildred to take down the billboards.

 


Mildred won’t take the signs down and faces assaults by all the town’s people including her own dentist. Willoughby isn’t the redneck tough guy you expect. He is sympathetic to Mildred’s case, but after 7 months there’s not much more he can do. Then, he reveals that he has cancer. Mildred is not moved and pushes him to solve the case before his cancer consumes him. But before too long, he takes his own life.


Greg, Three Billboards is a true gem of a movie that is filled with memorable characters who all seem to be undergoing challenging life journeys. The film is a dark portrayal of human nature, yet it is also a depiction of one woman’s relentless campaign to triumph over that darkness. Writer and director Martin McDonagh may hail from Ireland but he has firm handle on the rot and muck of middle America.

Special kudos go to Frances McDormand, who unleashes an Oscar-worthy performance here. She’s a special kind of hero in that she is basically unstoppable. The mystery of who brutalized her daughter appears to be unsolvable, yet her Billboards open the door to clues about the perpetrator. Mildred reminds me of the character of Carol in The Walking Dead; she is a force to be reckoned with, and people pay a steep price in underestimating her.


Three Billboards is an unexpected pleasure. This is not a typical story of heroes and villains. Sheriff Willoughby looks like he might be an incompetent boob – but he’s actually the glue that holds the town together. Mildred seems like a woman without a heart – but she deeply cares about Willoughby and his fight with cancer. Dixon is a classic racist in a position of power – and we learn he’s little more than a child. We keep expecting people to be called out for their biases and ultimately we learn that everyone in town is human, flawed, and dealing with their own pain.

The other thing this story does is never resolve the murder. It is simply a McGuffin designed to throw these people together to expose their pain and flaws. Dixon is the most transformed because he has the furthest to travel towards redemption. He has to overcome the biases his (pure evil) mother has inflicted upon him. It’s Willoughby who is the catalyst for his change. In a posthumous letter he tells Dixon he’s a good man who mistakes hate for strength and tells him to embrace love. Dixon seems to absorb this advice and finally takes a beating to bring a rapist to justice.


Dixon’s transformation is fascinating because it raises the question of whether it is possible for a person to transform so quickly from extreme evil to extreme good. One could argue that such a dramatic swing defies belief and any notion of realism. Yet we know that big changes in character are reasonable given the parameters and goals of storytelling. Joseph Campbell and Richard Rohr argue that the veracity of a tale is less important than its ability to inspire, motivate, and educate its audience.

As you point out, Greg, Willoughby’s letter is the source of Dixon’s conversion. In our analysis of movies, we’ve found that great mentoring may be the most important determinant of transformation. We also know that great suffering can also be the impetus for change, and Dixon suffers tremendously when half his body is badly burned in the fire started by Mildred. Willoughby himself transforms when he softens his antagonism toward Mildred and even funds her billboards after he discovers that his death is imminent.


Three Billboards is a welcome change in pace from the summer blockbusters. It’s less a story as much as it an examination of a collection of characters. Everyone is flawed and in some kind of pain. It’s the slow exposition of these pains, and how each character deals with them that makes this a movie to enjoy. I give Three Billboards 4 out of 5 Reels.

Mildred is an uncommon hero. In many ways, she’s an antagonist for Willoughby. And she performs evil acts – like burning down the police station. Ultimately, she conspires to commit murder. In our book “Reel Heroes & Villains” we classify a hero who ends up as a negative character the anti-hero. Mildred is an uncommon anti-hero, but I think she fits the definition. I give her 4 out of 5 Heroes.

Nearly everyone in this story goes through a transformation. Mildred releases her anger, grief, and guild for the loss of daughter and trades it in for revenge. Willoughby trades in one great day with his family for his life. Dixon trades his race hatred for compassion. Three Billboards gets 4 out of 5 Deltas from me.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:


You’re right, Greg, Three Billboards is terrific movie-making and should receive several Academy Award nominations, especially for Best Picture and Best Actress. Frances McDormand shines as a woman on a mission to secure justice for her raped and slain daughter. Her methods are creative, extreme, and borderline cruel, but she succeeds in rattling the town’s crooked cages and getting results. This film soars on the big screen and is exactly the reason why we watch movies. I award it the full 5 Reels out of 5.

Greg, I have to differ with your assessment that Mildred is an anti-hero. She’s as strong a hero as they come, a true champion of uncovering the truth and delivering justice. Yes, she and Dixon are going after a rapist who didn’t murder her daughter. But this evil man’s victim was someone’s daughter and inflicted unspeakable pain on another person and a family. Mildred’s willingness to stick her neck out to achieve justice is exactly in keeping with the definition of a hero — there is personal sacrifice, great risk, moral courage, and a superhuman effort to bring justice into the world. Mildred easily earns the full 5 Heroes out of 5.

You’re absolutely right that transformations abound in the movie, with Mildred the source of all these conversions. She sets in motion a series of events that eventually transforms Dixon into a decent human being, and she also softens the heart of Willoughby. Does Mildred herself change? I’m not so sure, and for that reason I’ll award this film 4 out of 5 transformative Deltas.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes: