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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:

Hotel Artemis •••1/2

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

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


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

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

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

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Game Night •••

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

SPOILERS WITHIN!


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

Greg, are you game to write this next review?


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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


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

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

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

The Commuter •••

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

SPOILERS WITHIN!


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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


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

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

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

Movie: Archetypes:   Heroes:

Molly’s Game •••

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

SPOILERS WITHIN!

 


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

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

 


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

 


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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:


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

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

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

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:

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:

Murder on the Orient Express ••••

Starring: Kenneth BranaghPenélope CruzWillem Dafoe
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Screenplay: Michael GreenAgatha Christie
Crime/Drama/Mystery, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 114 minutes
Release Date: November 10, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

 


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

Greg, it looks like Hercule Poirot took the last train to Clarksville.


Stop monkeying around and let’s review Murder on the Orient Express.


In Jerusalem in 1934, the famed detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is in the process of solving a case. Afterward, he is called on a case in London and must board the Orient Express, slated to leave Istanbul. At first it appears that the train is completely booked but Poirot obtains passage thanks to his friend Bouc (Tom Bateman), who is the director of the Orient Express.


He meets an array of characters, among them gangster Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp) who tries to enlist Poirot as his personal assistant – looking out for anyone trying to do him harm. Poirot declines pointing out that he chooses his company, and he does not want to be in the company of Ratchett. Later that night, Ratchett is found dead in his room with a dozen knife wounds in his chest. Poirot would rather start his vacation, but the game is afoot!


Greg, Murder on the Orient Express is a stylish re-make of two other films based on Agatha Christie’s iconic 1934 novel by the same name. Viewers may need to be fans of the mystery genre to appreciate this film, as there is a lot of talking between Poirot and the dozen suspects of the crime. These conversations are intelligent and witty, and it was fun watching Poirot struggle to put all the pieces together. Kenneth Branagh deserves kudos for bringing Poirot and his ridiculous mustache to life on the big screen once again.

It helps that this re-make is superbly cast. The assortment of colorful characters include Caroline Hubbard played by Michelle Pfeiffer, Hector MacQueen played by Josh Gad, and Gerhard Hardman played by Willem Dafoe. Depp also steps up his game in portraying the sleazy killer whom everyone wants dead. A prominent non-human character in the film is the beautiful yet foreboding Bulgarian mountain range that supplies the avalanche needed to give Poirot time to solve the case.


I had a good time with this film. Unlike other offerings this year, it was not a slam-bam fest. It was a thoughtful, humorous, and enjoyable two hours. Branagh’s Poirot, though, was a very monotone character – rarely raising his voice or even an eyebrow.

It has been a long time since I read “Murder on the Orient Express” in high school, so I didn’t remember the ending. It turns out that all the suspects took a stab at the villain. I was surprised that Poirot let them all go. I suppose it was his guilt at not responding to Armstrong’s letter that swayed him. I feel it made him just as guilty as the rest. But it’s hard to argue with Agatha Christie. I think she took a risk aligning her hero with killers. Perhaps sensibilities were different in the 1930s. But otherwise, Poirot is the classic “competent” hero.


Greg, I’d say you’ve put your finger on the heroic transformation of Poirot, if you could call it that. Remember, he is portrayed as having an OCD perfectionism that requires him to see the world in black-and-white terms. The circumstances of the murder compel Poirot to re-examine his rigidity and recognize the moral grey area surrounding the murder. Ratchett is a despicable man who got away with either killing or ruining the lives of several good people, and while this fact doesn’t excuse the taking of his life, it certainly does mitigate the immorality of the act. Poirot walks away from this grisly affair with a more nuanced understanding of justice, human nature, and human culpability.


Murder on the Orient Express is an enjoyable mystery, true to the original. It was not ambitiously paced which made for a relaxing movie-going experience. It has one of the most original endings of any mystery in history. The star-studded cast delivered and Branagh as Poirot was a treat. I give Murder on the Orient Express 4 out of 5 Reels.

Poirot is Poirot throughout and is the epitome of the “competent” hero. Branagh’s portrayal of Poirot was a bit on the reserved side. While Poirot himself is a reserved character, a few highs and lows would have been appreciated. I give this incarnation of Hercule Poirot 4 out of 5 Heroes.

Transformations are abundant in this film as we watch everyone on the train change from who we thought they were – into who they really were. But no one was particularly changed for the better. I give the perpetrators just 3 out of 5 Deltas.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:


You’ve summed it up nicely, Gregger. Murder on the Orient Express delivers exactly what fans of mystery movies desire, namely, a smart and charismatic detective and an assortment of colorful suspects who supply a mix of intriguing clues. I agree that a rating of 4 Reels out of 5 is a fair assessment.

The hero’s journey is a bit stunted by the fact that Poirot is a recurring character with limited ability to grow or change from his journey. He also lacks good mentors or a love interest. I give his heroism a rating of 3 Heroes out of 5. Poirot does show a slight transformation toward appreciating moral nuance, and Ratchett transforms from alive to dead. The reality is that this genre of film isn’t about transformation, and so I give these characters 2 Deltas out of 5.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:

Suburbicon •

Starring: Matt DamonJulianne MooreOscar Isaac
Director: George Clooney
Screenplay: Joel CoenEthan Coen
Crime/Drama/Mystery, Rated: R
Running Time: 105 minutes
Release Date: October 27, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

0

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

Greg, it’s time to watch George Clooney’s biting critique of suburban America.


More like his ultra-liberal wet dream – Suburbicon. Let’s Recap.


We meet Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon), his crippled wife Rose (Julianne Moore), sister-in-law Margaret (Julianne Moore), and son Nicky (Noah Jupe). They live in Suburbicon, a fictitious all-white middle-class neighborhood in 1959 America.


Young Nicky Lodge neighborhood is up in arms because a black family has moved in next door. Nicky’s invalid mother Rose tells the boy to go play with the family’s young boy. This causes unrest in Rose’s sister, Maggie. That night, two men come to Nicky’s house and tie him, his father Gardner, his mother, and his aunt up and chloroform them into unconsciousness. But just as Nicky is drifting off, he sees one of the men give Rose an additional dose of chloroform. When he awakes in the hospital, he learns that his mother is dead.


Greg, Suburbicon is a Coen brothers misfire. Intended to be a dark comedy, the film is instead a soul-crushing story that left me thinking, “what’s the point?” There are two stories running parallel here, the main one involving a love-triangle murder to collect on a life insurance policy. The second storyline isn’t so much a story as it is a neighborhood’s violent tirade against an African-American family. The connection between these two tales isn’t fleshed out, and all I can figure is that the main story is about family dysfunction while the secondary story shows us societal dysfunction.

Everyone in this film is a vile character, with the exception of Nicky’s uncle, who dies while saving the boy from one of the killers. I get the impression that the Coen brothers felt like producing something dark a la Fargo but they forgot to insert Fargo’s cleverness or charm. There are no real heroic journeys to follow, only an anti-hero story that went basically nowhere. Even the film’s ending fell flat, with Nicky deciding to go play ball with his African-American buddy next door while blood-soaked bodies are littered about his home. I suppose this ending is intended to offer a sliver of hope, but I found it to be totally contrived.


I fully concur, Scott. This film is supposed to be some sort of cynical look at White America in the 1960s. I suppose what the twin stories is supposed to show is that Suburbicans thought the nice Black family were monsters, when in fact the true monsters were right next door.

There’s a point in the story when the insurance adjuster proclaims “There are just so many coincidences. One coincidence smells bad, but too many make a story smell really bad.” He could easily have been talking about this very movie. The boy, Nicky is not supposed to be at the initial police line up, but there he is. He’s not supposed to be in the room, but there he is. Someone turns the light on, and the bad guys can see him through the two-way mirror. And this is just in the first 20 minutes of the film. Truly, a more contrived set of circumstances could not have been created in a motion picture.

The thing that really grinds my gears is that this is not the film we were sold in the trailers. If you look at them, they sold us a dark comedy about a milquetoast man who defends his family, home, and neighborhood from the onslaught of an external mafia invasion. That seems interesting. But this film, whatever it thought it was, was not anywhere near what was promised.


There is an anti-hero’s journey of sorts, with Gardner descending into a dark world (which he’s made for himself). His descent gets deeper as one mishap after another seals his fate. Gardner doesn’t really undergo any type of transformation, although one could possibly argue that his villainy escalates during his attempt to save his skin. The secondary plot is void of any hero’s journey or transformation unless, again, one makes the argument that the neighborhood’s intolerance of the African-American family grows increasingly hostile over time.


I fully agree, Scott. The confusing thing about this story is that it’s told pretty much from the point of view of the young boy, Nicky. And yet, it’s the story of the anti-hero father. The story of the next-door-neighbor Black family is merely a side-by-side comparison. Nothing is learned and the artistic statement falls flat. This was a total waste of celluloid. Oh wait, this was a digital movie, so there’s a small win in that no film was harmed in the making of this story.

Suburbicon was a complete waste of time and resources. George Clooney and his Coen brother friends have lost their minds thinking that they were telling some sort of tale of White corruption. In fact, they promised a campy comedy and delivered a complete zero of a movie. Sadly, several very good performances, camera work, and costuming were also wasted. As much as I wanted to give zero Reels, I have to at least appreciate the visual appeal of this film. I give Suburbicon just 1 Reel out of 5.

The main character is the anti-hero Gardner Lodge. But the story is told through the eyes of young Nicky. If we view this as an anti-hero story we have to decide if the decline and eventual downfall of the protagonist delivered a cautionary tale. I’d say it did not. There is no real message to this story and the journey that both Gardner and young Nicky take leave us nothing of value. I give them 0 out of 5 Heroes.

And finally, we look for transformation in our movies and there is little to be found here. Almost anyone of note in the story ends up dead. Even Gardner is killed not by any action of his own or his son’s, but by accidentally eating the poisoned sandwich Margaret had intended for Nicky. So, Nicky doesn’t even stand up for himself but is saved by happenstance. I award 0 out of 5 Deltas for Suburbicon.

Movie: Transformation: 0  Heroes: 0


Suburbicon might as well have been named Subpar-icon. It baffles me that the Coen brothers and George Clooney bought into this anemic and unsatisfying screenplay. The main story simply describes a crime gone awry, and the peripheral story is merely the depiction of angry racists. It’s sad to give the Coen brothers only 1 Reel out of 5 but that’s all this film deserves.

I see that you’ve given both the heroes and their transformation a rating of zero, Greg. You make a good argument that there is nothing heroically of value, yet there may be a smidgeon of an anti-hero’s journey worth considering. Unlike you, I do see a cautionary tale here, with Gardner reminding us that crime never pays and that karma is a bitch. So I’ll give the anti-heroes 1 measly hero rating out of 5. The paucity of transformation merits (if that’s the right word) a barren 0 out of 5 Deltas.

Movie: Transformation: 0  Heroes:

Wind River ••••

Starring: Kelsey Asbille, Jeremy Renner, Julia Jones
Director: Taylor Sheridan
Screenplay: Taylor Sheridan
Crime/Drama/Mystery, Rated: R
Running Time: 107 minutes
Release Date: August 18, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!


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

Greg, apparently rivers are not just wet. They are windy as well.


A young woman named Natalie (Kelsey Asbille) is shown running frantically in the snow. We learn later that she was raped and as good as murdered while fleeing in sub-zero temperatures. Fish and Wildlife agent Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) discovers her frozen body and informs her father Dan (Apesanahkwat). To solve the mystery about what happened to Natalie, Lambert teams up with Tribal Police Chief Ben (Graham Greene) and rookie FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen).

 


The autopsy indicates sexual violence and Lambert assumes the girl died from exposure while running away from a rape. Banner decides to stay on the case and investigate the homicide rather than report it as a rape. Because if it’s a rape then her superiors will take her off the case.


Greg, Wind River is a movie dripping with loss and heartache. In addition to institutionalized poverty and despair, there are lives lost to rape, murder, and alcoholism. Yet amidst all the tragedy there are beacons of hope who assume human form in the characters of Cory Lambert and Jane Banner, who push hard for truth and justice. One of our buddy heroes is deeply wounded from divorce and the loss of his daughter. He redeems these wounds by hunting down a pack of human predators. The other buddy hero is young and seemingly in-over-her-head, yet she digs deeps to deliver justice. Despite the dark tone of this movie, we’re left with a sliver of hope at the end.

Overall this movie moved me and impressed me. Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen are cast perfectly and display a robust chemistry as partners in their heroic mission. Graham Greene is also outstanding in his role of the jaded sheriff worn down by his impoverished surroundings. If I had to find two nitpicks, it is that (1) Corey has to save Jane in a sexist, damsel in distress kind of way, and (2) Cory delivers a poetic justice to the main predator at the end that strikes me as over-the-top Hollywood and inappropriate. It is unnecessarily demeaning to his character.


I also enjoyed this film. Mostly for its storytelling and less for its political overtones. The final card on-screen explains that many Indian women are lost each year and there are no records about how many there are. It’s a curious end to a suspense/thriller. If this were a film about a cultural phenomenon regarding disproportionate abduction of indigenous women, it certainly wasn’t on the screen.

I am also a little confused about casting. In recent months a lot of attention has been given to so-called yellow-face: the portrayal of Asians by whites (See Emma Stone in Hawaii). Here we have a story about the problems of American Indians with whites in the lead. The Renner character could easily have been indigenous with little change to the plot.


The production value of the cinematography is off the charts, almost on par with that of Revenant a couple of years ago — and that’s the highest praise I can give a movie. The majesty of the cold, stark mountains coupled with the sweeping, spacious landscapes were breathtaking to behold. I nearly got frostbite sitting in my comfy theater seat. Director Taylor Sheridan deserves huge credit for creating a dark, chilling atmosphere of despair in every frame of this film.

There is a fabulous hero’s journey here experienced by our buddy pairing of Cory and Jane. After being thrown into the dangerous pursuit of a rapist and killer, Cory finds himself mentoring the young and inexperienced Jane. As such, Jane undergoes more of a transformation than does Cory in this film. She gains experience, self-confidence, and a greater understanding of human loss and of injustices inflicted on Native Americans. Cory also grows and undergoes some healing from the loss of his daughter a few years earlier.


We’re in agreement here, Scott. Wind River is a beautifully shot movie with some excellent performances. In our book Reel Heroes & Villains we call out the duo hero structure or “buddy hero” as two heroes with equal weight. Cory and Jane are a classic buddy hero pair with one hero being established and the other needing training. They start out at alternate ends of the experience scale. But Cory mentors Jane along until the exit the story on a similar plane.

It’s Jane’s transformation more than Cory’s that drives the story. While we’re informed of Cory’s loss of his own daughter years earlier, we don’t much see any healing for him after solving this girl’s murder. In fact, his estranged wife warns him that he won’t find any answers here. On the other hand, Jane starts out naive and filled with self righteous indignation. In the end, she comes to more fully understand the plight of the indigenous peoples. It’s through her transformation that the audience is likewise transformed.


Wind River is one of the best surprises of 2017, offering a riveting depiction of murder and redemption in the bitter cold mountains of Wyoming. The dark tone in this film’s  look and feel is matched by the equally lurid storyline. Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen shine in their roles as detectives tracking down a killer who destroys a girl and her family. Wind River hit me hard emotionally and deserves a rating of 4 Reels out of 5.

Our two buddy heroes, Cory and Jane, make a terrific pairing as they must rely on each other to solve the case. They are thrown into a grisly world of death and despair, encountering obstacles in human form and in the form of institutional poverty and racism. These heroes deserve 4 Hero points out of 5.

As befitting good buddy heroes, Cory and Jane also help each other transform. Cory aids Jane in the ways of the world and in the plight of the Native Americans who suffer socially and economically. Jane helps Cory by providing FBI resources to bring about closure to the case which enable Cory to heal somewhat from the loss of his daughter a few years earlier. I give these buddies a rating of 4 transformative Deltas out of 5.

Movie: Transformation: Heroes:


Wind River is a satisfying murder mystery and buddy hero story with both a message and a mission. It carries us through the murder investigation of a young Indian woman while exposing the problems inherent in the world of Indian Reservations. I wish the final message of the problem of Indian women disappearing was supported by the events of the film. I give Wind River 4 Reels out of 5.

Our buddy heroes Cory and Jane play off each other nicely with Cory acting as the mentor character and Jane as the straight and narrow cop from the city. I enjoyed their chemistry and appreciated Jane’s transformation from naive to informed. I give them 4 out of 5 Heroes and 4 out of 5 Deltas.

Movie: Transformation: Heroes:

Logan Lucky •••

Starring: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Screenplay: Rebecca Blunt
Comedy/Crime/Drama, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 119 minutes
Release Date: August 18, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!


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

Greg, in all this excitement, you’ve gotta ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky?”


It’s de-ja-vu all over again in this remake of Hell or High Water – in West Virginia.


We meet Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum), a construction worker at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. He is fired from his job for liability reasons after it is discovered that he walks with a limp due to an old football injury. Jimmy visits his brother Clyde (Adam Driver), who wears a prosthetic hand as a result of injury during the Iraq war. After getting in a fight with Max Chiblain (Seth MacFarlane), an arrogant British celebrity, the two men decide to organize a complex heist of the huge cash vault underneath the Charlotte Speedway.


They enlist the aid of incarcerated bank robber Joe Bang (Daniel Craig). They promise to break him out of jail and repay him money he lost to his ex-wife. But Joe wants his brothers Fish and Sam in on the action, too. Now the two men and their sister, Mellie (Riley Keough), create a plan to use the money pneumatic pipes to suck the cash out of the vault.


Logan Lucky Is a delightfully quirky movie about the antics of some quirky characters, not all of whom are delightful. This film sits confidently in the mold of the Ocean’s Eleven franchise in that we witness the complicated heist of a massive institution, which this time happens to be NASCAR. Our heroes are actually anti-hero criminals, although we find ourselves rooting for them because (1) the writers were smart enough to endow these characters with some endearing qualities, and (2) other people in the film are portrayed as far more dastardly.

One thing that struck me was that our lead hero in the ensemble, Jimmy, shows an intuitive understanding of the hero’s journey. He composes a “to-do” list describing the process of pulling off the heist successfully, and lo and behold the list contains key elements of the hero’s journey such as “shit happens” and “deal with said shit”. Joseph Campbell described these setbacks in far more eloquent terms but the idea is the same. Heroes encounter obstacles, failures, and growth opportunities, which ultimately contribute to a successful execution of the hero mission.


I have a much dimmer view of this film than you, Scott. First, it plays upon the hillbilly stereotype. Second, in most anti-hero stories, the anti-heroes are battling against something evil, so we root for them. Jimmy and Clyde are ripping off NASCAR. Even Clyde asks the obvious question: “Why are we robbing NASCAR? They are the best thing in America.” But Jimmy has no answer.

It’s no wonder that this film bears a resemblance to Oceans 11 – it shares the same director in Steven Soderbergh. And it comes hot off the heels of last year’s Hell or High Water. Except in that film, the anti-heroes were fighting the evil forces of a bank that was leeching the life out of a small town. We root for those guys because they’re being ripped off. But Jimmy and Clyde are just down on their luck and happen to know the weakness of Charlotte Raceway’s money vault. I don’t have sympathy for them and I don’t see any justification for their reward.


The premise worked for me, Greg, because we see Jimmy get unjustly fired from his job, and we also see Jimmy and Clyde get insulted because they suffer from physical disabilities. This ignites our sympathy for them. NASCAR is a billion dollar business and certainly isn’t as evil as the banking industry or as sleazy as a big casino, but these days rich fat-cats of any type are perceived as guilty of greed and therefore ripe for robbery. I’m not condoning this perception; it’s just the mindset of our society right now.

So we do have a strong hero’s journey, and although Jimmy doesn’t anticipate every bump on the heroic road, he plans well enough to pull off the heist. Daniel Craig nearly steals the show with his portrayal of a smart, dangerous convict who helps our heroic duo break into the vault. I do agree with you, Greg, that the stereotype of southerners as slow and stupid did bother me. I’m lived in the South for over 30 years and trust me, dear readers, this movie does not accurately portray people south of the Mason-Dixon line.


And, what was Seth MacFarlane doing in this film? He was basically a douche-bag brit that insulted Clyde’s lost hand. That was apparently the inciting incident that led our boys into a life of crime. Otherwise, he had little purpose in this film.

As with other films of this ilk, there’s little transformation here. Our heroes seem richer for their efforts (is this a type of transformation we’ve neglected?), and are closer as brothers. Jimmy’s ex-wife seems to be more willing to let him see his daughter. But otherwise, everyone is the same as they started. And who knows? Maybe Hillary Swank as the last-minute FBI agent might figure out what our boys did and they’ll get their cum-uppance.


Logan Lucky is a fun, adventurous, and clever movie that features some wonderful performances by Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, and Daniel Craig. The dialogue, chemistry, and antics of these three characters are certainly worth the price of admission. This film has a mission-impossible-like feel to it, with a nice mix of complex planning that we are privy to and other planning that catches us by surprise. The combination of memorable and colorful characters along with a fun and sprightly plotline compels me to award this film 4 Reels out of 5.

Our anti-heroes are down-on-their luck brothers who appear so deserving of a break that we find ourselves rooting for them to succeed in their criminal caper. Jimmy and Clyde follow the hero’s journey almost to the letter; they attract helpers, encounter anti-villains and obstacles, and emerge richer and self-confident. Most importantly, the Logan curse has been lifted. I award this duo 4 Hero points out of 5.

The transformation is a bit more subtle and thus difficult to pinpoint. Clearly, with the curse lifted, they have experienced a transformation of self-confidence. Greg, I would not call wealth accumulation a transformation, although if you pushed me I might say it is a type of physical transformation that we discuss in our most recent book, Reel Heroes & Villains. One thing to keep in mind is that the story is not yet over, as FBI agent Hilary Swank appears poised to track down and capture our anti-heroes. I’ll give our dynamic duo just 2 Deltas out of 5 because they didn’t truly transform much, and that’s okay because transformation was never the point of this film.

Movie: Heroes: Transformations:


Logan Lucky is a wannabe mash-up of Hell or High Water and Oceans 11 – but the results are disappointing. I don’t feel any remorse for our anti-hero brothers Jimmy and Clyde – at least not enough for me to get over the fact that they’re committing a crime. The crime itself is a good caper but the twist at the end left me feeling tricked rather than impressed. I can only muster 2 out of 5 Reels for this film.

The heroes come off as dim-witted but ultimately show that they know more than the average bear. Jimmy does his best to be a good dad to his daughter Sadie. He’s ripping off NASCAR so he can afford to move to Lynchburg to follow Sadie when her mom moves there. Still, I don’t admire a man who breaks the law to show his dedication. I only have 2 Heroes for Jimmy and Clyde.

There are some transformations here. Joe Bang gets out of jail. The boys get their money. Jimmy gets to be with Sadie. And Clyde gets a nicer prosthetic arm. I give them all 1 Delta out of 5.

Movie: Heroes: Transformations: