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Adrift •••

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

SPOILERS WITHIN!


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


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

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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


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

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

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

A Quiet Place ••• 1/2

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

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


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

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

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

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Red Sparrow ••••

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

SPOILERS WITHIN!


First there was Black Panther and now a Red Sparrow.


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

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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


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

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

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

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

The 15:17 to Paris •1/2

Starring: Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, Spencer Stone
Director: Clint Eastwood
Screenplay: Dorothy Blyskal, Anthony Sadler
Drama/History/Thriller, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 94 minutes
Release Date: February 9, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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

Greg, we just saw another movie about a train. This one’s a true story, however.


Well, at least we’ll always have Paris. Let’s recap:


We meet three young men from Sacramento, California, who are all obviously close friends. They are Spencer Stone (Spencer Stone), Anthony Sadler (Anthony Sadler), and Alek Skarlatos (Alek Skarlatos). We flashback to their middle-school years when they made regular trips to the principal’s office. Their parents are single mothers who are doing their best to raise these three boys who are energetic and show a strong interest in the military.


The boys grow up and at 25 years old, Spencer reflects on his life. He’s tried football, basketball, and pizza delivery – and failed at all them. He resolves to get into shape and apply for the Air Force Paratroopers. He gets in, but his lack of depth perception tanks his hopes. Ultimately, he is trained as a medic. To celebrate, he arranges for a European tour with his old friends. That leads to an encounter that will make them famous.


Greg, The 15:17 to Paris tells a great story, but it is not a great movie. In a rare misfire, director Clint Eastwood shows us how three young men evolve from schoolboy goof-ups to noble heroes. The problem with this film is that Eastwood also shows us much more. He shows us what ice cream our heroes enjoy, what kinds of selfies they take, and what cities they like to visit. There’s more than a lot of dispensable fluff, which is a shame because this story needed to be told. A running time of 50 minutes would have been about right in lieu of the 90 minutes we’re forced to endure.

The coolest aspect of this film, of course, is that our three real-world heroes portray themselves in the movie. They do a semi-respectable acting job and the decision to cast them in these roles delivers a great payoff when we’re treated to actual footage of them receiving medals of honor from the French president. The message of the movie is also important in emphasizing how all of us are potential heroes, and how it is imperative that we stand up and take action when action is required.


We could probably end the review here – because you have hit all the points I would have made. Truly half the film follows two of our heroes on a trip through Europe. It’s worse than a series of home movies. Every five minutes the pair would stop for a beer and muse out loud: “Should we go to Paris? It sounds so boring…” Literally 5 or 6 times they go through this dialog. I guess the screenwriter was attempting to create tension. But it was the worst dialog ever written.

And even master director Clint Eastwood couldn’t fix this story. The bits at the beginning with the heroes as kids are nice. But again the dialog is so on the nose. In one scene a dowdy school marm informs the mothers that their rambunctious boys need Ritalin. The women storm out saying “My God is stronger than your medicine!It’s all kinds of confusing. We never find out if the boys get medicated or if they actually have ADD. It’s just left hanging there like some Floridian chad.


You’re right, Greg, we should just get to our ratings while also commenting on the archetypes that come alive in this movie.

Rating the overall quality of this movie is difficult for me, as I love the story but dislike the manner in which it is told here. We’ve already described the general problem — there simply isn’t enough meat on this cinematic bone to warrant a full-feature film, and as such we’re subjected to enough padding (and inane dialogue) to fill the grand canyon. The only thing preventing me from giving a rating of 1 Reel out of 5 is that this story is pure and beautiful heroic non-fiction. Thus I’ll bump the rating up to 2 Reels out of 5.

The heroism here is fabulous. We’re witness to the transformative journey that enabled these men to perform their heroic act on the train. Alek Skarlatos is the main hero who never seemed to find his way in life as a boy nor as a young man. He transforms himself and hits his stride in the military, but his lack of depth perception seems to derail him. Rather than let this setback define him, he trains as an EMT and now has the heroic potential to deal with a dangerous, life-threatening situation. I give these heroes 5 Hero points out of 5.

Several archetypes jump out at me, Greg. The underdog archetype is prominent, as our three heroes are at first dismissed as hopeless goofballs who will never amount to anything. We also see the military warrior archetype. What makes our heroes’ heroism possible is the villainous terrorist, who is portrayed as pure evil here. Carl Jung raised the idea of a demon archetype, a powerful force in our collective unconscious as well as a powerful force on this French train. Overall these archetypes earn 4 archetypes Arc points out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


I agree with you on the quality of this movie. It’s a real disappointment. Unlike you, however, I have no problem rating it 1 Reel out of 5. There’s no way I can recommend anyone watch this movie for any reason other than its historical value. It’s just truly bad.

However, I compensate the low quality rating with a perfect hero score of 5 Heroes out of 5. This story emphasizes the importance of realizing that we all have the element of heroism in us. Here, we see Alek work exceptionally hard to become the person he wants to be. He fails over and over and never gives up. And when the moment calls for him to act in the service of others, he does not fail. He steps up and saves the lives of dozens of people. This is what we look for in heroes – and we all have it in us.

I know we have both struggled with our definition of “archetype.” Sometimes I feel like we are looking at tropes or even stereotypes. All three terms are valuable and subtly different. We do see the VILLAIN archetype played out by the terrorist on the train. Sadly, it is the stereotype that is presented in this movie. We get no backstory to this man. We only see his brown skin and dark features and the stereotype of the middle eastern or Muslim terrorist fills in the blanks. While it makes for economical storytelling, it is a dangerous stereotype as there are plenty who look like this villain who are good people. I give the HERO archetypes high marks. So, I’ll award 3 out of 5 Arcs for the archetypes.

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:

The Post ••••1/2

Starring: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson
Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenplay: Liz Hannah, Josh Singer
Biography/Drama/History, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 116 minutes
Release Date: December 27, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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Is this a film about a President’s online posts?


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

More like The Washington Post, Greg. Let’s recap.


It’s 1971 and Rand Corporation contractor Daniel Ellsberg has been working on a study for the Pentagon under direction of Secretary of State Robert McNamara. The study reviews the relative failure of the United States’ war in Viet Nam. Ellsberg realizes that the office of the President has been lying to the public and congress for the entire 30 years of the US involvement and proceeds to copy some 4,000 pages of the report. He delivers it to the New York Times who publish a headlining story proclaiming that every administration for 30 years has kept the war going – just to save face.


The Times is ordered by the higher courts to refrain from publishing any more of the pentagon papers. So the Washington Post’s Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) hunts down Ellsberg himself and delivers the incriminating documents to the Post’s editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks). Bradlee asks Post owner Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep) for permission to publish. She is pressured by attorneys and the board of directors to avoid publishing but ultimately gives Bradlee the green light to expose the pentagon papers.


Scott, The Post is a superbly well-crafted film by a director and lead actors who are at the peak of their craft. The story is so perfectly told with subtle acting and attention to detail that it almost escaped my attention that this is a cautionary tale for modern-day events.

The Nixon administration had waged war against the press – attempting to silence first the New York Times, and then The Washington Post. The principals at the Post pushed back against first amendment attacks by Nixon – that changed the relationship between the media and the White House forever. And, it solidified the right of the people to have an independent and free press. Given the attacks on the media from the current administration, this story is more than topical.


Greg, I’m in complete agreement. The Post is a powerful movie that shows a dramatic moment in history, and it hammers home how (given today’s current events) history is repeating itself. Nixon was Trump-like in wanting to censor the press, and it took true heroism for Katherine Graham to risk everything to do the right thing. This film is also timely in demonstrating the importance of the #MeToo movement. Graham is rarely taken seriously by the patriarchal world in which she operates, and yet she grows in her confidence and ultimately takes a bold position while defying the male members of the newspaper’s board.

There aren’t many movies that better illustrate how heroes must fight off strong pressures to take the wrong action. It would have been so easy for Bradlee and Graham to avoid publishing the incriminating papers, or simply delay publishing them. Their attorneys, friends, and colleagues were begging them to be “prudent”, sensible, and sensitive to the newspaper’s profits — and perhaps even its very existence. It would have been easy to take the “safe” action, but our heroes took a big risk and made potentially life-altering self-sacrifices. This is truly the stuff of great heroism.


Meryl Streep plays Graham superbly. Graham starts out as an unwilling leader having inherited the Washington Post from her husband after his untimely death. We see her in opening scenes rehearsing for a pitch to investors as she takes the business public. She’s uncertain — letting the men in the room do the heavy lifting.

But by the end of the film she is secure in her position as the custodian of her husband’s legacy. Streep doesn’t make this transition suddenly with an epiphany. Instead, she comes to this position gradually, with a series of revelations that lead her naturally to the conclusion that she must make the Pentagon papers public. She understands that the media has a responsibility to the people to keep the government in check. And then she risks everything to take a moral stand at a time when the Nixon administration is attacking the fourth estate with impunity.


You’re right about Katherine Graham’s transformation. It’s the kind of transformation that women in general have been compelled to undertake over the past couple of generations in our society. She is mentored by both men and women, but like all heroes, she must traverse the journey on her own, summoning up the strength and wisdom to do what must be done even at great personal and professional risk. The men in this story do not change as much, although Bagdikian and Bradlee (along with Graham) can be seen as change-agents whose actions have an important transformative effect on society.


The Post is seamless in its presentation. While it hits all the turning points of the hero’s journey – you hardly notice because of the skill and artistry of the director, actors, and crafts-men and -women who created this movie. I award The Post 5 out of 5 Reels because I can’t see how it could have been improved.

While Tom Hanks shares headlining credit, it is Streep’s Graham who owns this story. We love stories of transformation and Graham changes in ways both profound and subtle. I give Katherine Graham 5 out of 5 Heroes and 5 out of 5 Deltas.

Movie:   Transformations: Heroes:


Greg, The Post was very good but falls short of landing in the “great movie” category. I’m reminded of the 2015 film Spotlight, which also depicted a newspaper’s fierce campaign to unveil a painful and vehemently denied truth. Both these movies drive home the important role that a free and aggressive press plays in a society rife with bureaucratic deceit. I award The Post 4 Reels out of 5.

This is an ensemble cast of heroic characters headed by Katherine Graham, a woman who makes the courageous call to print the truth at great potential cost to herself and others. Bradlee and Bagdikian get their hands dirty doing their heroic work in the trenches and also deserve high marks for their heroic grit and perseverance. I award all these heroes 5 Hero points out of 5. And because of Graham’s bold transformation and transformative effect on others, she deserves 4 Deltas out of 5.

Movie: Transformations: 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:

Darkest Hour •••1/2

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

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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

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


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

Movie: Transformation: Heroes:


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

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

Movie: Transformation: Heroes:

Wonder •••1/2

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

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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


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

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

 


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


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


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

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


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

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


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


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


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

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

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

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:


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

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

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

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:

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: