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Joy ••••

JoyfilmposterStarring: Jennifer LawrenceRobert De NiroBradley Cooper
Director: David O. Russell
Screenplay: David O. RussellAnnie Mumolo
Comedy/Drama, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 124 minutes
Release Date: December 25, 2015

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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

Greg, I get the feeling that Joy will be a joy to review.


I enJoyed myself at this movie. Let’s recap:


We meet a woman in her late twenties named Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence). Joy is a divorced single mom who somehow finds herself taking care of everyone:  her kids, her grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd), her neurotic mom who lives upstairs (Virginia Madsen), and her ex-husband Tony (Édgar Ramírez) who lives in the basement. Then her father Rudy (Robert De Niro) moves in with her and begins sharing the basement with her ex. Joy is an aspiring inventor but all her time is spent working for an airline and taking care of her many dysfunctional family members.


Rudy starts dating a widow named Trudy who is well-to-do. Trudy invites Rudy and his family (including Joy and her overachieving sister Peggy) for a trip on her boat. When Joy drops her wine glass it shatters and she feels compelled to clean it up. Doing so, she gets her hands chapped and cut wringing out the mop. When she gets home she dreams up an idea for a mop you never have to touch with your hands and can be thrown in the washing machine. She prototypes the device and pitches it to Rudy and Trudy. They reluctantly agree to invest in her invention and Joy begins an odyssey that will determine her future and the future of her family.


Greg, Joy is yet another movie featuring a strong female hero. But our hero Joy doesn’t start out that way. At the beginning of the film, Joy is mentally beaten down by her family, who expect much from her but think little of her. She has sacrificed so much for her parents, her ex-husband, and her children, that she has lost herself in the process. Joy is too kind and selfless for her own good.

The good news is that deep inside, Joy understands her own worth and does not give up on her dream to become an inventor. Rather than quit and allow others to define who she is, Joy summons the courage to resurrect her dream to invent things and to become an entrepreneur. Doing so requires great strength and courage from Joy, who has acquired these qualities from her grandmother and mentor Mimi. Joy’s self-confidence and sense of worth lay dormant for a while but eventually these qualities are allowed to blossom.

What’s wonderful about this film is that we are shown that when the mentor dies, the student can still thrive. In short, the mentoring does not stop. Joy has internalized her grandmother’s advice. This film drives home the life-changing importance of loving support and wisdom passed down to children from elderly family members.


Joy was an enchanting and heartwarming story about persistence and perseverance. Joy starts out as someone lost in her own family. Everyone depends on her, she gives unselfishly to those she loves, and they respond by holding up a mirror to her that only reflects her failures. She reemerges when she is so beaten down that the only thing that remains is a childhood memory of things she created and left in a shoebox. That spirit of creativity is the kindling that turn into a fire that drives Joy to put everything she has into a final push to create something that will define her.

Joy is a wonderful example of the hero’s journey. She starts out submerged and filled with a deep hurt inflicted by the separation of her parents during her childhood. When she realizes that her life won’t change unless she makes a change, she passes into the special world of being an inventor. She has to grow as a person and resolve her inner feeling of a lack confidence.

There’s a scene that I love in Joy that reminds me of what we often see in these heroic transformations. Joy is at her lowest point. She’s been cheated by her suppliers, beaten down by her family, and even sabotaged by her sister. She then changes her clothes. She dons the attire of a warrior – trading in her peasant blouse and cotton pants for black leather and slacks. She even bobs her hair. She is ready for battle and she makes a final transition into the world of tough negotiators. The change of garb is a clear marker that the hero is going into battle.


Greg, you’ve made a nice observation about the transformed physical appearance symbolizing, and signifying, the inner heroic transformation. I recently watched the movie Brooklyn in which the female hero’s clothing, hair, makeup, and gait all serve as important indicators of transformative change. It’s the equivalent of Clark Kent finding the nearest phone booth to switch into his Superman costume.

Another nice element to the film Joy is the effective use of the supporting cast in making Joy’s heroic transformation possible. Several of the characters are seemingly supportive of Joy’s dream. Witness the initial backing of Rudy, Trudy, and QVC founder Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper). When things don’t go swimmingly right away, all of these folks are quick to remove their support and even belittle Joy in a way that makes us want to strangle them. I was relieved to see that Neil’s character has enough depth and complexity to give Joy a second chance, which of course results in the achievement of her dream. All these secondary characters are used to great effect in providing our hero with obstacles and opportunities for resilience.


Scott, we’ve mined the Moxney’s paradigm more than once in these reviews. This is the mythical structure that models relationships after the family. And in Joy’s case, it is a literal mapping. She is dealing with her estranged parents, her estranged husband, her estranged sister, and her mentor grandmother Mimi. However, here, all the estranged characters represent a dysfunctional family and so the Moxney’s structure fails. It’s Joy who is at the top of the hierarchy and pulls the rest of her family up as they attempt to drag her down.

We also see an interesting villain structure here. Her older sister consistently attempts to belittle and sabotage Joy’s successes. As if that weren’t enough, her suppliers believe she’s an ignorant and naive woman and work to steal her ideas. And behind them is their Texan dealmaker – the puppetmaster (or as we like to call him, the Mastermind).

I’d also like to mention Joy’s adorable children. Frankly, they don’t have a big role here. They often serve as a reminder of Joy’s own childhood. This is especially true when Joy is at her lowest point and yells at her daughter not to dream too big – just as she was taught when she was a child. However, she is buoyed more than once by her grandmother Mimi who always had confidence in her.


Joy is a wonderful and inspiring story about a remarkable woman who puts her remarkableness on hold while she sacrifices for many other members of her family. When her entrepreneurial dream is eventually realized we are moved by her successes and frustrated by her setbacks. Joy’s perseverance is finally rewarded but not without significant delays and hardship. This film is a terrific portrayal of a modern woman’s hero’s journey and it easily earns 4 Reels out of 5.

Our hero Joy has all of the characteristics of the Great Eight traits of heroes. She is smart, strong, charismatic, kind, caring, inspiring, resilient, and reliable. Her journey is tortured yet profoundly satisfying in the end. I was struck by the sea of humanity standing in the way of her dreams as well as by the people who came through for her to help her achieve her goals. Joy is transformed from a human doormat into a soaring business force to be reckoned with. I give her complex character and breakthrough journey a score of 5 Heroes out of 5.

The supporting characters represent a wonderful blend of good, bad, and quirky individuals. At times we want to wring their necks and at other moments we cheer them on. The grandmother Mimi plays a pivotal role in assisting Joy with her transformation, as does her ex-husband Tony. Joy’s father and especially her sister prove to be formidable villains to overcome, but Joy manages to outmaneuver them. The entire cast shines in Joy and I’m happy to award them all 5 rating points out of 5.

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Joy is the semi-biographical story of a woman’s journey from a child of great potential, to an underachieving adult, to an accomplished millionaire. Jennifer Lawrence delivers a wonderful performance that is Oscar-worthy. She shows us just how loyal and devoted she is to her family – so much so that she loses herself. Then she shows us that Joy can recover her inner child only to have her hopes dashed again and again. This is a movie with as much heart as It’s a Wonderful Life. I could see it again and again. The only problem I had with this story is that it is narrated by grandma Mimi and … she’s dead, Jim. I give Joy 4 out of 5 Reels.

As we’ve mentioned this is a complete hero’s journey. Joy crosses the threshold from her ordinary world of service to everyone around her, into the world of entrepreneurship. She’s fully committed to this journey. She falls to her deepest depths only to regroup and emerge as a warrior. Finally, in the epilog, we learn that she goes on to be a mentor to other women. I give Joy 5 out of 5 Heroes.

The supporting cast is a very mixed bag of nuts. There are no families more dysfunctional in Hollywood films than Joy’s. We’ve already talked about the obstacles her father, mother, and sister provide. Not to mention the many men who take her for a fool. But we also saw some characters we haven’t talked about much this year. Like the “best friend” – person who is not a family member but gives support and solace. And I don’t even know what archetype the plumber in this story is. (He’s from Jamaica and Joy’s reclusive mother begins an inexplicable romance with him). This group definitely left me feeling frustrated and I was just watching. I can only imagine what it must have been like to be Joy! I give them all 5 out of 5 Cast points.

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The Revenant •••••

The_Revenant_2015_film_posterStarring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Screenplay: Mark L. Smith, Alejandro González Iñárritu
Adventure/Drama/Thriller, Rated: R
Running Time: 156 minutes
Release Date: December 25, 2015

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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Scott, I feel penitent for having not yet reviewed The Revenant.


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

Let’s reverse that and do a rave review of Revenant.


We’re introduced to Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his half-Indian son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) who are part of an American squad that is hunting for pelts in the northern wilderness of the Louisiana Purchase in 1823. The group is ambushed by a group of Arikara Indians who are looking for the chief’s abducted daughter. The squad escapes downriver with some of the hides. Just when it looks like they might make their way home, Glass is mauled nearly to death by a grizzly bear. The captain of the squad decides they will carry Glass back to the fort. This decision doesn’t sit well with veteran trapper John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) who wants to put Glass out of his misery and push on.


The leader of the expedition, Captain Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), cannot bring himself to kill Glass. He asks for volunteers to stay with Glass while the remaining survivors attempt the long dangerous trek to the outpost. Fitzgerald is among those who volunteer, along with Hawk and a young man named Bridger (Will Poulter). When alone with Glass, Fitzgerald tries to smother the gravely wounded man but is interrupted by Hawk, who is then killed by Fitzgerald. Glass witnesses the murder and is then left for dead by Fitzgerald and Bridger. The rest of the story focuses on Glass’s ability to survive his horrific injuries and avenge his son’s death.


Scott, The Revenant was a very big movie – and not just because we had to sit in the front row of the theater. It’s a long story that takes its time in the telling. And I wasn’t bored a second. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu tells this story with wide shots of virgin forests and snow covered mountains. It was beautiful movie. And Inarritu keeps the pace up with action and motion. It’s a big task as the main character, Glass, is mute through much of the first half of the movie. It’s a credit to DiCaprio that he was able to deliver a compelling performance under those conditions.


Greg, The Revenant is why I love movies. Each week I go to the theater with the faint hope that my socks will be knocked off, and Revenant has done just that. This film is a sweeping, majestic, tour de force. The Revenant would probably be worth watching on the basis of its scenery alone. We’re treated to magnificent panoramic views of Montana and the Dakotas. Director Iñárritu has taken great pains to ensure that we will never forget the look and feel of this film.

But Revenant offers far more than visually stunning fare. The movie has a rare depth to its storytelling, and it packs razor-sharp emotional punch. One rarely sees a film made like this anymore. We aren’t spoon-fed the story by an outside narrator, a movie gimmick that is common these days and doesn’t allow viewers to do any creative interpretive work in filling in gaps. This movie, The Revenant, has long stretches of heart-wrenching silence that force us to pay attention to characters and to situations that both enthrall and repel us. For this reason and many others, The Revenant is easily one of the top three films of the year in 2015.


DiCaprio plays the kind of man that was necessary to tame the wilderness, and is largely absent today. Glass and the men in his squad are tough. There’s just no better way to describe them. Glass survives a grizzly mauling. He self-cauterizes a hole in his trachea. Glass’s men surrender themselves to the truth that they must walk to their fort. And that means walking across the mountain range.

We recently reviewed A Walk In The Woods where people walked the Appalachian trail. These people planned it like it was a vacation. They stopped in local towns for coffee and donuts. The men in The Revenant shouldered the burden of their loads as a matter of fact. That spirit stands in stark contrast to the comforts we have become accustomed to in modern life.


You got that right. The hero story here is fascinating and relies on us to do some detective work to determine whether Hugh Glass is a man worth rooting for. We aren’t given much backstory about him and then suddenly he’s grievously injured. Is he the kind of guy we want to heal? Yes, we feel sorry for him when his son is killed, but the key scene that reveals his moral core occurs when Glass saves the abducted daughter while she is being raped. Now we realize that Glass is a hero, not an anti-hero.

All the classic elements of the hero’s journey are shown in full-force in The Revenant. Glass is thrust into one special world after another by the Arikara attack, the bear mauling, and the murder of his son. He receives help by a lone Pawnee who feeds him, tends his wounds, and protects him from a blizzard. He is mentored from afar by words of encouragement drifting through his mind. They are from his deceased wife, who remains his inspiration during the darkest of times. Glass is physically transformed by the mauling and through his healing, and he is emotionally transformed by the courage and grit he must acquire in the face of imminent death.


There are a number of secondary characters worthy of note. The first of course is the villain, Fitzgerald. This is a self-centered, self-serving man who twists the events to his best advantage. What is wonderful about this film, is that we get to know himthrough his discussions with his young protege, Bridger. We learn that Fitzgerald was nearly scalped and left for dead. This gives us a clue as to why he might be a “take what you can while you can” sort of guy.

Fitzgerald also plays a dark mentor to the young Bridger. He tricks Bridger into believing that Hawk (whom Fitzgerald has murdered) has fled and that Indians are coming. Bridger is naive and flees with Fitzgerald, leaving Glass to die. Fitzgerald then begins to indoctrinate young Bridger into his dark world of “taking care of yourself first.” When Fitzgerald and Bridger return to the fort, Fitzgerald hungrily takes his reward, but Bridger leave the money on the table – showing he retained his humanity.


Bridger is a character they could devote an entire movie to and I’d pay to see it. This kid is a kind, loyal soul who resists the dark side. Fitzgerald is one bad dude who has no conscience and must be dealt with if I am to walk out of the theater liking this movie. The Native Americans are portrayed as vicious but then we are also witness to all the injustices directed at them that caused the viciousness. They are not villains but they are certainly a danger to Glass, who manages to win them over by saving the Arikara woman.

All these characters play their roles to perfection. Tom Hardy deserves kudos for playing a character who is a completely rotten, ruthless son of a bitch. Many of the Native American cast members are terrific and breathtakingly realistic in their roles. The lone Pawnee is a terribly tragic figure who earns our admiration for helping Glass but is murdered ruthlessly by the French. Hawk and Captain Henry earn their stripes, too, in this film. Everything and everyone falls into place perfectly and the result is pure cinematic magic.


The Revenant is a masterful piece of moviemaking not to be missed. Every element of this movie was given the best each artist had to bring. DiCaprio’s Glass shows us just how hard it was to survive in the 1820s. The shots of the wilderness are simply breathtaking. The battles between the white men and the Indians are gruesome and riveting. There are three stories to follow here: the hunters, the Indians and the French trappers. The director feeds us the stories of all three and weaves them into a tale that held me in rapt attention. I give The Revenant 5 out of 5 Reels.

Glass is an historical hero. He is driven first by his love for his son, then by revenge for his son’s death. He is as tough as any super hero. We see him go through a number of changes – from hunter, to father, to survivor, to a hunter of men, and finally he resolves as a man capable of forgiveness. This is a complicated man and worthy of 5 out of 5 Heroes.

The supporting cast is superb in stepping up to the challenge of reflecting DiCaprio’s Glass. Hardy’s Fitzgerald is not only evil, but fully believes everything he does is right. That’s the most compelling type of villain. Young Bridger is the emerging hero. He is just learning the ropes of the special world and so is at the beginning of his own hero’s journey. The Captain is an honorable leader who must weigh the decisions that mean life and death. And the rest of the men are equally tough as Glass – supporting the fact that it takes a special kind of man to survive the wilderness. I give them 5 out of 5 Cast points.

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The Revenant is easily one of the best movies of the year. The film is a feast for the eyes and a marvelous example of movie-making at its finest. Although clocking in at 2 hours and 40 minutes, the time flew by. My bladder suffered almost as much as Hugh Glass did as a result of his bear mauling. All the elements of good storytelling came together to perfection with this film, and when you combine a great tale with astounding visuals, you’ve got a movie for the ages. There’s no question that The Revenant earns a full 5 Reels out of 5.

As I’ve noted, the hero’s journey grabs us and grips us tightly for 160 beautiful minutes. Hugh Glass marches through all the painful and triumphant stages of the hero’s journey and emerges a physically and emotionally transformed individual. I asked one of my students about this movie and he said it was “tough”. Watching Glass lose his son and so much of his blood was indeed tough. The hero’s wounds run deep in this movie, but all those emotional and physical wounds are somehow healed, but not without considerable learning, suffering, and growing. We, the audience, are privileged to watch the process unfold. No doubt about it, Glass earns the full 5 Heroes out of 5.

The cast, as we’ve noted, was superb. We’ve pretty much said it all — the entire ensemble rose to the occasion and helped produce a movie and a hero’s story that I’ll never forget. Need I even bother to say that the cast deserves the full 5 rating points out of 5?

Greg, I nominate The Revenant to be placed in the rarified air of our Reel Heroes Hall of Fame. Do you concur?

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Absolutely. It’s rare to find a film that is better than The Revenant. It certainly deserves the Reel Heroes Hall of Fame.

The Martian •••••

The_Martian_film_posterStarring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig
Director: Ridley Scott
Screenplay: Drew Goddard, Andy Weir
Genre, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 144 minutes
Release Date: October 2, 2015

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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I feel like Jan Brady: “Martian, Martian, MARTIAN!”

 


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

Only one Martian, Greg. Not a bunch. And he’s My Favorite Martian. Let’s recap.


We’re introduced to Matt Watney (Matt Damon) who is on an away mission to Mars with his 7 fellow astronauts. They are all gathering dirt and samples when a storm starts a-brewin’. So they rush back to the ship as the storm starts getting rough. So rough, in fact that a satellite dish goes flying and hits our boy. The rest of the team make it to the rocket and they reluctantly take off without him, thinking he’s dead.


Turns out that Watney survived the mishap and is now stranded on the red planet. He calculates that he has about a year’s worth of food supplies but must somehow survive three years until the next manned mission to Mars arrives. Being a botanist, Watney uses his skills to begin planting crops inside his habitat shelter. Meanwhile NASA scientists discover from photographs of the planet that Watney is alive, and they begin communicating with him. Soon they hatch a daring effort to rescue Watney before he starves to death.


Scott, The Martian is another in a series of smart, scientifically accurate, science fiction movies (following 2013’s Gravity and last year’s Interstellar). The Martian puts you right in the action. You immediately care about Watney’s situation and you root for him to succeed. When everything goes south on him we all feel his anguish. If you notice that I’m talking a lot about feelings in this review, it’s for good reason. The science isn’t only what’s showcased here, it’s the emotions of Watney on Mars, and his compatriots on the spaceship above, and his peers at Mission Control back on Earth. I was struck by how the screenwriter (Drew Goddard ) and director (Ridley Scott) kept three different storylines running at once. That makes for a fantastic story.


The Martian is an extraordinary hero story, perhaps the best I’ve seen on the big screen in several years. The movie itself is almost as strong as the hero’s journey; it explodes off the screen, seizing our attention and lifting our hearts for the entire 2 hours and 21 minutes. We have the complete package here: a riveting screenplay, a terrific cast, astounding CGI effects, and a gritty hero worthy of our greatest admiration.

The only element of the hero’s journey that is missing is a “mentor” figure. My thinking is that there are “implied” mentors — all the teachers and trainers who taught him skills in science and survival. The end of the movie, showing him become that teacher to others, drives home that point. We saw that kind of implied mentor in A Walk in the Woods, where Robert Redford’s character reveals the influence of Henry David Thoreau.


Scott, what you’re describing could be “The Mentor’s Journey.” We’ve seen this in other stories. The last role for the hero is to become a mentor; to share his lessons learned with new and upcoming heroes. In The Hunger Games Haymitch is just such a mentor. He was once a tribute for the Hunger Games and he survived by killing off all the other tributes. As such, he became a hero figure. Now, in his twilight days, he passes on what he has learned to newer tributes. His final destination as a hero is to become a mentor.

I felt there were a lot of heroes in this story. Of course there’s Watney on Mars. But there are other lesser heroes. There is the director of NASA Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) who has three underlings who act as henchmen (Henderson, Ng, and Moontrose). While he manages the operation, it’s the other three who do the dirty work. We also see a turncoat in Henderson. He defies Sanders and informs the crew. This may be a new secondary character – the Unreliable Henchman. Up on spaceship Ares, there is a crew of followers lead by Captain Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain). They are also following the Mastermind/Henchman pattern.

I’d also like to draw your attention to two characters who represent a new kind of secondary character for us – the Ingenious Youngster. In one case we have a young woman, Mindy Park, who spots Watney on the satellite photos. In the next, is the young orbital mechanics scientist Purnell (Donald Glover) who figures out how to get Watney home. Both of these underlings are far down in the hero hierarchy, but without them, the story ends sadly.


You’re right, Greg, in pointing out the importance of the young kid character who unexpectedly saves the day by solving a problem that his (or her) elders cannot. In Star Trek: The Next Generation, it was Wesley Crusher who bailed out the Enterprise on more than one occasion. Here it is Purnell, a neophyte astrophysicist whose computations allow for the possibility for the crew to perform a slingshot maneuver around the sun to expedite a return trip to Mars to save Watney.

This whiz-kid character stands in direct contrast to the archetypal Wise Old Man or Woman character who usually serves as the mentor. How interesting that heroes can get help from all different types of sources, some expected and others unexpected. I suspect that villains can receive assistance from a similar range of characters, although The Martian is not the right movie to test this hypothesis. There is no human villain in the story; the villain is nature itself, specifically, the inhospitable natural conditions endemic to Mars.


Which brings up an interesting question in this story – who is the villain for the secondary characters? It would seem it is time. NASA is running out of time before their window of opportunity closes. The astronauts aboard spaceship Ares are also fighting against the time it takes to turn around and go back after Watney. Also, the director of NASA plays a bit of the villain too, as he weighs the expense of losing one man on Mars, versus an entire crew in a rescue attempt. In his mind, better to lose one man than a whole ship and its crew. Perhaps budgets and finance are a villain for him?

The Martian is a great story told exceedingly well. The three plotlines dovetail nicely to give us what some have called Apollo 13 on steroids. The science in this movie has won praises from all corners. The special effects made me believe I was on Mars. But more than that, the tension in this movie is unrelenting. I couldn’t look away for a second for fear I’d miss something important. I give The Martian 5 out of 5 Reels.

There are heroes a-plenty in this movie. Watney, of course, is the main character and is the hero of his plotline. But the other two plotlines have heroic characters at all levels of the story. Even in China we meet two scientists who risk their reputations and status to help rescue Watney. As for Watney, he is the ultimate hero. He’s physically capable and the most competent man on the planet. He uses all his knowledge and experience to survive in the harshest of environments. He gets a full 5 out of 5 Heroes.

Finally, the enormous cast of secondary characters is just overwhelming. We see two sets of Mastermind/Henchman hierarchies. Everyone from the top down is working at their peak to get Watney home. The cast is diverse in every way. We even found a new supporting character in the young geniuses. I give the supporting cast 5 out of 5 cast points.

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Greg, nothing displeases me more than agreeing with you, but I have to concur with you across the board. The Martian is a near-flawless movie that deserves both critical acclaim and box office success. I hope this film gets recognized with numerous nominations at Oscar time. It’s both a no-brainer and a pleasure to award the full 5 Reels out of 5 to The Martian.

The hero story is textbook. Watney travels the full hero’s journey, and in every phase of the journey we witness a richness and depth that is rarely seen in the movies. Watney shows all eight characteristics in the Great Eight traits of heroes: He is smart, strong, inspiring, reliable, resilient, caring, selfless, and charismatic. He becomes transformed from ordinary astronaut to an exceptionally innovative, pioneering colonist who rises to the challenge of surviving where no human has any right to survive. Clearly, Watney earns the full 5 Heroes out of 5 here.

And as you mention, Greg, the secondary characters possess a similar richness and depth, and they do exactly what secondary characters should do in any great movie. They complement the hero, assist him, wrong him at times (albeit unintentionally), and enjoy their own mini-journeys of discovery, despair, and triumph. This impressive cadre of supporting characters no doubt earn a rating of 5 out of 5.

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I don’t think films get much better than this. I’d like to nominate The Martian for the coveted Reel Heroes Hall of  Fame. What do you say?


The Hall of Fame is rarified air, Gregger. But I have to agree with you. This movie is a remarkable gem, and so I second your nomination. It’s Hall of Fame material for sure.

Inside Out •••••

Inside_Out_(2015_film)_posterStarring: Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Lewis Black
Director: Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen
Screenplay: Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen
Animation/Comedy/Drama, Rated: PG
Running Time: 94 minutes
Release Date: June 19, 2015

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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

Well, Greg, it’s time to review the heroes in Pixar’s latest release, Inside Out.


I’m turned inside out with anticipation. Let’s recap.


We meet Riley Anderson (Kaitlyn Dias), an 11-year-old girl whose family is moving from Minnesota to San Francisco. We also meet various components of Riley’s internal emotional state. There is Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling).


We’re shown around the landscape that is her brain. There are the core islands of family, friends, goofiness, and her favorite pastime – hockey. Each memory is a tiny orb that is colored by whatever emotion Riley was feeling when the memory happens. Joy is the predominant emotion and basically runs the show. But Sadness wants to take over when Riley is having trouble in her new situation. Riley misses her friends and house back in Minnesota.

So, Sadness gets into all the memories and starts to color them blue. Joy wants Riley’s memories to be happy so she attempts to stop Sadness and they are both whisked away from “head” quarters into Riley’s memory storage bank leaving Fear, Anger, and Disgust to fend for themselves and color all of Riley’s memories. Now it’s up to Joy to return the core memories to Riley’s frontal cortex and restore Riley’s happy feelings.


Greg, Pixar has done it again. This film studio’s ability to craft wonderful and moving hero stories that appeal to audiences of all ages is unmatched in the movie industry. With Inside Out, Pixar has especially grabbed my attention because it portrays the conflicting psychological makeup of the average human being. As a psychologist, I believe that Pixar’s rendition of people’s psyche rings true. We are presented with five conflicting emotional states that compete with long-term memories, imaginary friends, dream states, trains of thought, and executive functioning.

The visual depictions of all these mental processes are innovative and amusing. Moreover, the resolution of Riley’s internal conflict is deeply moving and reveals some fundamental truths about how we deal with life’s ups and downs. Inside Out tells a simple story about average people encountering a common situation. Yet the simplicity of the movie’s premise belies its intelligent handling of the way we struggle to resolve our human pain and difficulty.


As a military brat who moved on average every 18 months, I empathized with Riley’s emotions over moving away from a home she loved. Writer and director Peter Docter didn’t miss a beat. The story moves along at a rapid pace and exposes a lot of the inner workings of our minds. The conflict between the different emotions was hilarious not only for the excellent voice acting, but also because it was so relatable for anyone who was eleven years old at some time.


I was struck by the diversity of the ensemble cast featuring different emotional elements bouncing off each other in a manner reminiscent of John Hughes’ Breakfast Club. Yet the hero story focuses on Riley as a lone hero engaged in an inner war with herself. Imbedded within this lone hero journey is a buddy hero story involving Joy and Sadness. As with most buddy duos, Joy and Sadness do not get along at first. Soon they realize that they need each other and forge an unshakable bond that is essential for Riley to grow in her maturity. In total, we have a complex hero story with at least three layers, and Pixar masterfully manages to weave these layers together into a beautiful, coherent whole.


I agree Scott. One thing I noticed about this ensemble is that there is a clear leader. Joy is not quite the protagonist, but she is the mastermind of this group. We also get a glimpse into the minds of other characters. They also had the same five-emotional ensemble, but different emotions would be the leader.

There is a wonderful cast of supporting players. There’s Bing Bong – the part cat, part elephant, part cotton candy imaginary friend who cries hard candies. And the cleaning crew who dispose of unused memories. We meet the guards of the unconscious who aren’t too bright. And there was a wonderful use of the “Reality Distortion Lens” (an homage to Steve Jobs) by the minions who managed Riley’s dreams.


Inside Out is one of the year’s best films. We are treated to a unique and clever glimpse into the inner workings of the human psyche, bolstered by an entertaining dialogue, creative visuals, and an intelligent view of how human growth occurs. I laughed, I cried, and I heartily recommend that this movie be nominated to our Reel Heroes Hall of Fame. Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway), I award Inside Out a rating of 5 Reels out of 5.

The hero story was a complex tale of a child’s lone journey represented by her internal mental turmoil, particularly her two primary emotions of Joy and Sadness in battle (and in ultimate union) with each other. I’ve never seen a more psychologically rich and interesting hero’s journey. Our primary emotional hero mastermind, Joy, receives crucial mentoring from Bing Bong and her parents. There is a rewarding transformation in Riley, made possible by inner-struggle, perseverance, and assistance from others. So many of the elements of the classic hero’s journey are represented well here. Again, my rating is a full 5 Heroes out of 5.

Greg, you captured the strength of the supporting cast very effectively. All the characters are impeccably drawn and know their place within the structure of the story. Riley’s family, her emotional elements, and the other minor characters all produce a movie experience that dazzles and shines in every possible way. I award the cast a full 5 out of 5 rating points.

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As much as I hate the phrase, Inside Out is an instant classic. At Agile Writers the first step in writing a novel is defining the demographic the story is aimed at. Pixar obviously aims its movies at children, but creates a tapestry rich enough to engage viewers of all ages. That’s no mean feat. Inside Out hits it mark on so many levels. This is a story of a young girl ripped away from an ideal life and how she handles it. But it’s also a coming of age story. We watch her internal world crumble as she leaves behind childish things and takes a big step towards adulthood. I give Inside Out 5 out of 5 Reels.

When Pixar announced this project a few years back, I was skeptical. The idea that you could tell a story about something as amorphous as emotions is fraught with peril. But Pete Docter pulled it off. By limiting the scope to 5 primary emotions, with one of them as the leader, Docter reigned in what could have been an overwhelming project. Joy is wonderful as the leader of this ensemble. Aside from being ever-optimistic, she’s also a leader. It’s wonderful to see a hero for young women who takes charge (and isn’t labeled as ‘bossy’). I give Joy and her troupe 5 out of 5 Heroes.

The supporting players were so varied and entertaining as well. Although the parents play a small role in the film, they were loving and supportive. The mentor/sidekick character of Bing Bong helped Joy maneuver the special world of the brain’s memory system. The other secondary characters were more than mere walk-ons. They were clearly defined with specific roles in the functioning of Riley’s thoughts. I give the supporting cast 5 out of 5 Cast points.

I second your nomination for this film to enter our Reel Heroes Hall of Fame. It’s been a long time since we allowed a film in. And for good reason. A filmmaker has to really hit one out of the park to set itself above all the others. And Inside Out definitely cleared the fence of quality.

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