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Ocean’s Eight ••1/2

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

SPOILERS WITHIN!


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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


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

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

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

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Deadpool 2 ••••

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

SPOILERS WITHIN!


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


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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


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

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

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

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Life of the Party •

Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Gillian Jacobs, Debby Ryan
Director: Ben Falcone
Screenplay: Ben Falcone, Melissa McCarthy
Comedy, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 105 minutes
Release Date: May 11, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!


Scott, partying is such sweet sorrow.


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

Let’s inject some life into that party, shall we? Time to recap.


We’re introduced to Deanna Miles (Melissa McCarthy) who is seeing her daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) off to her senior year in college. She reminisces that she dropped out of her last year of college to marry her husband Dan (Matt Walsh) but has no regrets. No sooner is she in the car and on the way home when Dan drops the bombshell that he wants a divorce.


Deanna makes the momentous decision to finish her archeology degree at the same college as Maddie. Lo and behold, Deanna also happens to join Maddie’s sorority, too. At first, the transition is awkward as the generation gap between Deanna and everyone else becomes painfully apparent. But soon Deanna begins to fit right in, even with conflicts with other students looming large.


Scott, this movie is a hot mess wrapped in a flustercluck immersed in a quagmire. It is so rare to find a film with such star power that could be so impossibly bad. But, let me tell you how I really feel. As an example, Maddie is at first repulsed by the idea of having her mother in the same school as her, and then immediately supportive. Then horribly embarrassed and gives her mom a makeover. This movie runs hot and cold with characters reacting as needed to satisfy the gag for whatever scene is currently on-screen. This film has no goal, no direction, and no soul. What an incredible waste of time.

Deanna has a divorce settlement and is apparently left with no money. But her husband is funding her education. And at some point she pisses off his girlfriend so he cuts Deanna off which makes for the movie’s crisis moment where Deanna and her new sorority sisters have to throw a fundraiser. But, in what world would Deanna really be left with nothing? Logically she would have received some sort of settlement and alimony. But that would make it difficult for Deanna to be put into peril – so the writers simply make her poor.

And she has this unbelievable relationship with a college frat boy where he becomes so in love with Deanna that she can’t get rid of him. And, wait for it… he’s the son of the woman who stole Dan away from her. It’s all completely unlikely and orchestrated for yuks. Everything in this movie is played out for yuks – but virtually none of it is funny.


Greg, you’ve nailed it. Like many gifted comedians, Melissa McCarthy is having trouble finding movie roles that best suit her talents. I’ve always thought that talented funny people such as McCarthy, Jim Carrey, and Amy Schumer are better off sinking their teeth into roles with some dramatic heft in them so as to counter and even accentuate their comedic contributions. That’s why The Truman Show worked so well for Carrey and why Life of the Party works not so well for McCarthy.

The film is a giant goof-fest that isn’t as amusing as it thinks it is. McCarthy makes the most of the material in the same way that the musicians on the Titanic made the most of their situation. It’s a commendable performance but there’s no avoiding the final disastrous outcome. The most unbearable scenes in the movie involved Deanna’s parents, especially her father, whose histrionic outbursts are unfunny and cringeworthy. This film couldn’t end soon enough for me.


Life of the Party is a complete waste of time. McCarthy has no one to blame but herself for this mess as she is co-writer and producer of the film. I honestly believe the vast majority of the dialog was improvised because I cannot imagine anyone purposely writing the tripe that rolled out of characters mouths. Live of the Party just barely gets 1 out of 5 Reels from me.

As a hero Deanna is all over the map. She doesn’t really have a missing inner quality that needs resolving, so she has no arc. And she doesn’t really empower the young women around her with her example – so she can’t even measure up as a catalyst for change in the people around her. I give her just 1 Hero out of 5.

The archetypes here are the OLD STUDENT, FRAT BOY, SORORITY SISTER, BETRAYED WIFE, and MEAN GIRLS. These tropes were so blatant and stereotypical that absolutely no time was spent developing these characters. We’re simply left to recall other, superior movies, which employed them so that McCarthy could lazily not describe them. I give these archetypes 1 out of 5 Arcs.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


Life of the Party would be more aptly named Death of the Party, a sad instance of celluloid on life-support and in need of someone pulling the plug. There are a few humorous moments sprinkled throughout the film but not nearly enough of them to salvage this “hot mess”, as you put it, Greg. McCarthy’s talents are largely wasted and I’m bitter about never getting these two hours of my life back. I give this movie a shameful 1 Reel out of 5.

There is a clear hero’s journey in this film featuring Deanna’s adventurous return to college and her challenges in forming relationships and in giving classroom presentations. What’s unclear is how she is transformed by her experience. One might say that she gained self-confidence and restored her true sense of self as a separate entity from her husband. Her going to back to school is just for gags, really. I give Deanna’s heroism a score of 2 Hero points out of 5.

The archetypes I see in this film include the classic midlife crisis, the embarrassing older parent, the professor as mentor, the woman cougar, the dark misfit roommate, and the college frat party. None of these archetypes strike me as particularly deep or interesting, and so the best rating I can muster is a score of 2 Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Overboard •••

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

SPOILERS WITHIN!


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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

Movie: Archetypes:   Heroes:


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

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

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

Movie: Archetypes:  Heroes:

I Feel Pretty ••1/2

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

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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I feel pretty … good about this movie, Scott.


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

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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


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

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

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

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Blockers ••1/2

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

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


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

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

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

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Game Night •••

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

SPOILERS WITHIN!


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

Greg, are you game to write this next review?


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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


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

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

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Lady Bird •••

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

SPOILERS WITHIN!


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


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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Movie: Heroes: Transformations:


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

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

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

Movie: Heroes: Transformations:

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:

Coco •••••

Starring: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt
Director: Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina
Screenplay: Lee Unkrich, Jason Katz
Animation/Adventure/Comedy, Rated: PG
Running Time: 105 minutes
Release Date: November 21, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

 


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

Finally, Greg, a movie about hot chocolate.


No, Scott. It’s the story of a Mexican boy, his great-grandmother, and the love of music. Let’s recap:


We meet 12-year-old Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), who lives with a multi-generational family in Mexico. We learn that Miguel’s great-great grandfather was a musician who abandoned his wife Imelda (Alanna Ubach) and daughter Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguía) to pursue a career in music. As a result, the family has banned all music and even the mention of music. It turns out that Miguel loves music, especially that of the famous Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt).


Miguel figures out that he is the great-great-grandson of de la Cruz and on the Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos) young Miguel decides to steal the late Ernesto’s guitar and play in the talent show. But when he does, he is transported to the Land of the Dead where the skeletons of passed relatives try to gain entrance to Earth on this one day to visit their living relatives.

Miguel befriends Hector (Gael García Bernal), a ne’er-do-well spirit who wants to visit his daughter one last time before she forgets him – causing him to disappear forever. Together, the two try to get the late Ernesto’s blessing so that Miguel can return to Earth and play the guitar. But they must hurry, because if they don’t succeed before sunrise, Miguel turns into a skeleton and will be trapped forever in the Land of the Dead.


Greg, Coco is a true delight and gives us one of the most emotionally satisfying movies of 2017. We don’t get much better hero stories than this one, and curiously it is a hero’s journey turned sideways. Usually, it is the hero who is missing some important quality, but in this film everyone except our hero has a missing quality, namely, an appreciation for music. It turns out that music is the key that unlocks the secret of Miguel’s great-great grandfather’s true identity. More importantly, it is music that brings Coco to life and jogs her memory about her true love: Hector.

Our hero Miguel turns out to be a change-agent hero inasmuch as everyone in his family lacks an appreciation for music and it is up to Miguel to instill in them a respect for musicianship as a career choice. This is not to say that Miguel is a hero without a flaw at the beginning of his journey. He lacks a clear understanding of his true family tree, and of the true evil nature of de la Cruz. The hero’s journey is always a search for one’s true special identity. Coco is no exception to this rule in its focus on Miguel’s quest to understand his place in his very tangled family tree.


I was prepared to dislike this movie because I don’t see how you can have skeletons at Christmas. I’m no fan of Nightmare before Christmas with all of its macabre overtones. Skeletons are creepy. Skeletons are scary. But after watching Coco skeletons became family. They were warm and loving and characters I wanted to be around. Pixar is relentless in the creation of stories that hit the viewer at their emotional core. And Coco is a resounding success in that regard.

And it is a success in every other way as well. The animation in this film is so exact that I forgot that I was watching an animation. That is to say, when I compare this to the CGI in Justice League, the pixels vanished. Every image was smooth and vibrant. The facial expressions were real and expressive. The characters emoted with energy and authenticity. I never wanted to look away. Coco is a rare delight.


You’re right, Greg. The computer animation was off-the-charts extraordinary. Just when you think Pixar’s design team can’t possibly up the ante any further, they produce something as magnificent as Coco. There are two scenes that show a stunning panoramic view of the Land of the Dead. The level of detail here is jaw-dropping, adding the kind of production value to the film that are on par with the spectacular mountain scenes in The Revenant. A generation ago, it would be unimaginable for a cartoon to rival images from real life in power, scope, and impact. But Coco delivers.


There are transformations a-plenty in this film. Miguel changes from hiding his talent to brandishing it with pride. De la Cruz falls from a hero on a pedestal to an evil villain. Hector is redeemed as a lost father to a cherished great-grandfather. And all of Miguel’s family transform from music haters to music lovers. It’s a wonderful change for practically the entire cast. As you mention, it is Miguel who is the catalyst for these changes. It’s his heart and drive that makes the change possible.


Coco is yet another triumph for Pixar and is perhaps the most emotionally fulfilling movie of the year. This film is proof that it is possible to shed a tear during a cartoon movie. I don’t know how anyone wouldn’t be deeply moved by Coco springing to life at the conclusion of this story. Besides great storytelling, Coco features some of the most remarkable CGI cartoon imagery the movie world has ever seen. This cinematic achievement earns the full 5 Reels out of 5.

Miguel’s hero’s journey is a bit unconventional but still contains all the classic elements of Joseph Campbell’s hero monomyth. Our hero is separated from his familiar world, receives help from friends, escapes from the proverbial belly of the whale, and acquires insight into his true identity. He also forever changes his family, too. I give our hero 5 Hero points out of 5. And because he transforms personally and also transforms others as well, I might as well award him 5 transformative Deltas out of 5, also.

Movie: Transformations:   Heroes:


Coco is a delight for adults and children alike. Filled with complex characters who each have a distinct desire, this film has a plot that drives forward from beginning to end. It avoids being macabre even though the majority of the action takes place in the netherworld. I give Coco 5 out of 5 Reels.

Miguel is a wonderful hero filled with ambition, hope, and naivete. We all want him to succeed in becoming the musician we know he can be. And his love of music both captivates and infects those around him making Miguel a catalytic hero. He helps to transform all his family and save his father from a fate worse than death. I give Miguel 5 out of 5 Heroes and Coco 5 out of 5 Deltas.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes: