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Hotel Artemis •••1/2

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

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


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

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

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

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Unsane ••••

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

SPOILERS WITHIN!


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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


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

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

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

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

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:

Maze Runner: The Death Cure ••

Starring: Dylan O’Brien, Ki Hong Lee, Kaya Scodelario
Director: Wes Ball
Screenplay: T.S. Nowlin, James Dashner
Action/Sci-Fi/Thriller, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 141 minutes
Release Date: January 26, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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I was hoping this would be a movie about children running in maize fields.


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

Amazing that you would think that, Greg. Let’s recap.


We’re introduced to Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) who is trying to rob a speeding train. He and his friends steal a super helicopter, disconnect a car from the moving train and carry it off hanging from the super-copter. When they land they release the prisoners: a gaggle of youngsters round up by WCKD (Wicked) who want to harvest their blood to make a potential cure for the Death Plague. But the object of Thomas’s heist, friend Minho (Ki Hong Lee), is not in the car – he’s been swept away to The City and is being forced to experience terrifying images so that his body will excrete the serum that Theresa (Kaya Scodelario) hopes will be the cure.


Thomas and his friends devise a plan to secretly enter The City to find Minho. Their former friend Gally (Will Poulter), who was believed dead, helps them find passage inside the city walls. Their plan is to use Thomas’ former girlfriend Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) to help them enter the big research skyscraper where Minho is being held. They capture Teresa, who guides them into the building where all sorts of mayhem ensues after encounters with the villainous Janson (Aidan Gillen).


Maze Runner: The Death Cure is no improvement over its previous incarnations. The story makes little sense and is a series of unlikely events strung together that never deliver on their promises. At one point, I thought the writers were going to martyr Thomas, but they did not. I thought they were setting up a love triangle between Thomas, Teresa, and Brenda (Rosa Salazar), but they did not. I thought they were going to have Gally betray them, but he did not. This movie was one uninspiring scene after another. I was relieved when it was all over.


Greg, is it just me or have we seen far too many movies in the “dystopian-future-young-adult fiction” genre that all seem to share essentially the same plot. These movies feature a group of young people in rebellion over a corrupt older generation that has inflicted terrible injustices on the youth. Maze Runner: The Death Cure gives us nice ensemble cast of characters whom we can get behind, with solid kudos to Dylan O’Brien, Will Poulter, and Kaya Scodelario. The story of these young heroes overthrowing their corrupt elders is pretty much by-the-numbers and predictable.

The two most interesting characters turn out to be the villains, Ava Paige and Janson. We get the sense that Paige’s intentions are good though her means for attaining her goals are ethically a disaster. Janson, in contrast, is a total bad apple who is driven by a lust of power and control. We can tell a villain is pure evil when he smiles as he kills. Actor AIdan Gillen plays essentially the same sordid character here as he did in Game of Thrones. The character of Teresa is also complex as she finds herself caught between two worlds, and of course she must make a choice about which world to commit to — a conundrum that naturally leads to her demise.


Yes, adult corruption and overthrow is a common theme in Young Adult literature, and it has just about had its run. In my interactions with writers and agents in writer’s workshops and conventions, I’m hearing a yearning from young readers for themes that more closely relate to their world. Young readers (and movie goers) are well aware of these well-worn patterns and are ready for a change. Maybe that’s the reason for last year’s Lady Bird and Wonder.

As for the archetypes we encountered in Maze Runner 3, Thomas is the clear HERO. And we have dual LOVE INTERESTs in Teresa and Brenda. However, it appears that Teresa is the true object of Thomas’s affections as he risks everything to save her from WCKD. Brenda, on the other hand has little to do in this story. Gally is an interesting character as he is both BACK FROM THE DEAD and a REDEEMED VILLAIN.

In my book Agile Writer: Method I point out that at the 75% point in a story someone close to the hero may die. Newt fits the SACRIFICIAL LAMB archetype. It’s not necessary for someone to die, but movies often kill off a popular character at that point in the story to demark the lowest point for the hero and also to show that the stakes are very high – life or death.

Every hero needs a goal and saving Minho fulfils that role. Hitchcock called this THE MCGUFFIN. It doesn’t matter if Minho is actually saved because that’s not important. It’s the hero’s missing inner quality that needs healing. As you point out, every hero also needs a VILLAIN and that’s Janson – he most clearly is trying to thwart Thomas’s goal. It’s interesting that you mention Ava Paige because she’s not a classic villain – she’s an administrator with the goal to save humanity from the death plague. Her methods are cruel – to torture young people so they produce serum. I’m not quite sure what archetype she fits.


Greg, I’m not sure that Maze Runner: The Death Cure is a cure for death but it most certainly offers a cure for insomnia. There just isn’t any new ground covered here, only a recycling of many Young Adult literary themes from The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Giver, and many other recent movie franchises. There are some commendable performances from several cast members, and a glimpse or two of effective villainy, but beyond that there is not much to cheer about. I give this film 2 Reels out of 5.

The heroes of this story do indeed traverse the hero’s journey. They boldly attempt a rescue by entering the enemy’s big city; they receive help along the way; and they encounter villains and obstacles. I don’t see any significant character transformation, which is not unusual given that this movie is merely a single installment of a series. Overall, the heroes are portrayed effectively, and so I award them 3 Hero points out of 5.

Greg, you mention several nice examples of this story’s use of archetypes. If I had to identify Paige’s archetype, it would be that of the tragic hero who means well but whose pride and arrogance condemns her to make bad decision (and also leads to her death). The effective use of archetypes here belies the mediocrity of the film. I give The Death Cure 4 archetype Arc points out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes:   Heroes:


Maze Runner: The Death Cure is par for the course in the Maze Runner series. Like the prequels, a lot is promised and little is delivered. The whole movie has a sort of made-for-TV feel to it. I also give it 2 out of 5 Reels.

Thomas is a typical teen-in-dystopia hero – if there is such a thing. I’m reminded of Triss from the last movie in the Divergent series. They both seem to wander aimlessly through villages and brushlands. At any rate, Thomas dos all the things we expect him to do and he’s quite the bore for it. I can only muster 2 out of 5 Heroes for him.

As noted, there are a number of archetypes and they all perform their usual functions. There are no new or noteworthy icons. I’m giving just 3 out of Arcs for them.

Movie: Archetypes:   Heroes:

Blade Runner 2049 ••••1/2

Starring: Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Screenplay: Hampton Fancher, Michael Green
Mystery/Sci-Fi/Thriller, Rated: R
Running Time: 164 minutes
Release Date: October 6, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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Scott, it’s time to run, don’t walk to the theater and see Blade Runner: 2049.


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

This blade is sharp indeed. Let’s recap.


It’s the year 2049 and we’re introduced to ‘K’ (Ryan Gosling). He’s an android developed specifically for the purpose of hunting down and killing renegade androids. His boss Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) is very concerned because K has just killed an android that left behind a strange box. When K opens it he finds the bony remains of a female android that appears to have had a caesarian section implying that the unthinkable has happened – an android has reproduced.


K is ordered by Joshi to find the replicant offspring and “retire” it. The deceased female replicant is identified as ‘Rachel’, and K discovers that she had a relationship with a former blade runner. Meanwhile, the head of the company that manufactures replicants, Wallace (Jared Leto) sends his henchwoman Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) to steal Rachel’s remains and to find the child.


Scott, Blade Runner 2049 is a great sequel to the original 1982 film. LIke its predecessor, 2049 is a bit ponderous – director Denis Villeneuve really takes his time setting up and executing each scene. And the scenes are constructed with great care and deliberation – which is to say that they are very detailed. The story is also told with great care and deliberation. It’s basically a mystery with clues left along the way as well as red herrings.

The movie clocks in at 2 hours and 45 minutes – which is long by almost any standard. I thought there were several places where scenes could have been more economical. We see a lot of shots of K deep in thought (which Gosling is known for). This feels more like a director’s cut than a theatrical release. The special effects were very good and at times it felt like the director was offering pornagraphic material – not so much because of nude bodies, but because he lingered so long on the effect.

I was also disappointed in the lack of scenes with Harrison Ford (Deckard, from the original) as he is featured prominently in the trailers (and listed as a costar).


Greg, we’re in agreement about this film’s excellence. Blade Runner 2049 is a masterfully constructed sci-fi flick that sets a very high bar for future work in this genre. Director Villeneuve makes exquisite use of space – I’m referring to the space between people, between objects, between buildings, etc. There’s also deft use of lighting and shadowing, along with creative camera angles that accentuate tension and emotional impact within a character. The craftsmanship here should earn Villeneuve an Oscar nomination, at the very least.

Yes, the movie strained my bladder, and I’d like to start a petition requiring movies to run no longer than two hours. If you can’t tell a story in 120 minutes, then you aren’t a good storyteller. Movie directors seem to fall in love with their work and can’t bear to leave a frame of their precious film on the cutting room floor. It would have been nice indeed to see more of Harrison Ford, but he appears to have reached the stage of his career when he plays more supporting roles than lead roles. Personally I believe he can still carry a movie on his geezerly shoulders, but Villeneuve doesn’t give him the chance here.


K as the hero of the film is worth following. Unlike his predecessor, Deckard, K is outed in the opening scroll as a replicant (android). It’s interesting to see this character treated as a slave and at the same time contemplate his own existence. We’re witness to K’s gradual realization that he is “the one” (a replicant born of a female replicant). Then the sudden revelation that he is not the one. It’s jarring both for the character and the audience.


You’ve identified perhaps the most fascinating element of the hero’s journey here, Greg. While all hero’s journeys are a search for identity, this film is daring in depicting an identity dead-end for our hero K. Believing for a while that he was “the chosen one”, he is instead left absorbing the reality of his ordinariness. This film is strong enough to get away with an identity realization that defies heroic convention. I could be cynical here by pointing out that this anti-revelation merely paves the way to yet another sequel, but I’d say there’s more going on here. The “treasure we seek,” in the words of Joseph Campbell, is rarely the treasure that we think we’re seeking. This film was so long that the treasure I sought was the nearest urinal.


There is no transformation for the world in which K lives. However, we do see K transform from a lost slave performing the duties he told to execute, into a self-aware and self-actualized individual. He makes decisions for himself and makes his own destiny. It’s not clear if he survives the film, although it doesn’t look good for him. And Deckard appears to have gone from just existing in his wasteland to caring about what happens to his offspring. It’s true that these transformations appear to be setting us up for a sequel, but it’s a sequel I’m looking forward to.


Blade Runner 2049 ranks among the best science fiction films of the past several years. This is true movie-making, a film crafted with careful attention to every frame, every camera angle, and every line of dialogue. The story also makes the bold move of defying an iconic convention of hero storytelling, namely, the illumination of the hero’s special identity. We thus see how skillful storytellers know how to break the rules. I award Blade Runner: 2049 a glowing rating of 4 Reels out of 5.

Ryan Gosling is cast perfectly in the role of K. a dutiful replicant who goes rogue in response to surprising revelations about his possible new identity. His hero’s journey contains the classic elements from Joseph Campbell’s monomyth of the hero — a departure to a startling new world followed by an initiation of trials, villains, detours, and discovery. This film gifts us with a terrific hero tale worthy of 4 Hero points out of 5.

Greg, you’re right about K’s transformation from a brutal slave enlisted simply to “retire” outdated replicants to an enlightened and empowered near-human being. In our Reel Heroes & Villains book, we describe five types of transformations: moral, mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical. In this film, K undergoes a mental transformation, as his entire worldview is turned upside-down. K’s growth is this film is fascinating to watch and it earns him 4 transformative Deltas out of 5.

 Movie: Transformation: Heroes:


Scott, I couldn’t agree more. Despite the long running time and rather slow delivery, this is a film worth both waiting for and wading through. It’s artful, entertaining, and is every bit as good as the original. I can’t see how to improve it — 5 out of 5 Reels.

K’s journey from obedient slave to rising acolyte, to fallen hero is a great hero’s journey. It’s a heroic transformation that we don’t get to see often. And it was so skillfully delivered that I have to give a full 5 Heroes and 5 Deltas. Excellent.

 Movie: Transformation: Heroes:

Kidnap ••

Starring: Halle Berry, Sage Correa, Chris McGinn |
Director: Luis Prieto
Screenplay: Knate Lee
Thriller, Rated: R
Running Time: 81 minutes
Release Date: August 4, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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Scott, you’d have to kidnap and restrain me in order to get me to look at this film again.


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

Greg, I kid you not, I’d rather nap than see this flick again. Let’s recap.


We’re introduced to Karla (Halle Berry) – she’s a waitress and mother in the middle of a divorce. She’s taken her son to the park when she gets a call from her lawyer. Her husband wants primary custody of her son. While she’s distracted, her son is abducted by woman. Karla sees him stuffed into a car and she jumps into her SUV to give chase.


And chase she does. There is a lot of chasing and a lot of mayhem during these chases. Karla learns from her son’s recording device that the two kidnappers are named Margo (Chris McGinn) and Terry (Lew Temple). During these chase sequences, Margo and Terry threaten to harm the kid if Karla doesn’t back off. Karla persists in giving chase and eventually has violent encounters with the kidnappers.


Scott, this film is reminds me of 2013’s The Call – also a Halle Berry movie. There really isn’t much to this story. The child is abducted and we watch Halle Berry emote into the camera for 90 minutes as she chases the abductors. I wish there were more to report, but that’s it.

The production values are very low. The script was sparse. The action was simple. There weren’t a lot of intense car chases or stunts. This was about as simple as a Hollywood film can get. I noted that Halle Berry’s own company “606 Films” was listed as one of the producers. This film really feels like a training run for her production company.


If you’re going to make a movie that consists of 90 minutes of chasing, then those chase scenes had better be extraordinary and the lessons learned had better be deep and enduring. Alas, this was not the case in Kidnap. You’re right, Greg, about the cheap production value of the film. You know you’re in trouble when half the movie consists of close-ups of Halle Berry’s emotionally contorted face. The car chases themselves were rather pedestrian, although I do admit on one or two occasions they were suspenseful.

My main problem is with the so-called heroism of our protagonist, Karla. Yes, she saves her young child, but along the way she maims and kills cops, pedestrians, and other motorists. Does her relentless pursuit of her son make her a hero when she’s left a swath of death and destruction in her wake? The concluding scene should have shown her being arrested. Now we know why throughout the country, long and dangerous police chases are slowly being phased out. They aren’t worth the carnage they inflict on innocent bystanders. By film’s end, Karla has become an unintended anti-hero.


Kidnap is a low-thrills rollercoaster ride. It’s a showcase for Halle Barry’s production company and as such doesn’t try anything controversial. An average film might get three Reels but this is a decidedly below-average film. I rate it just 2 Reels out of 5. Karla is little more than a cardboard cutout. I can only give her 2 out of 5 Heroes. And there’s scant little transformation going on – so I give this film 1 out of 5 Deltas.

Movie: Heroes: Transformation:


That’s a harsh yet accurate synopsis of this film, Greg. At best, Kidnap is a made-for-TV quality chase scene stretched out to 90 minutes due to long, frequent cuts to Halle Berry’s frantic facial expressions. This movie portrays Berry’s character heroically despite the fact that she has killed and seriously harmed many people en route to rescuing her son. The underwater fight scene near the end is unintentionally funny and the conclusion of the story is predictable. I’d say 2 Reels out of 5 is quite reasonable and perhaps even generous.

Because the hero is actually an anti-hero, and because the film doesn’t even acknowledge this fact, I have to award our protagonist Karla a single Hero point out of 5. And you’re right, Greg, that there is no transformation to be found here, a fact that compels me to award 1 transformational Delta out of 5.

Movie: Heroes: Transformation:

Atomic Blonde ••1/2

Starring: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman
Director: David Leitch
Screenplay: Kurt Johnstad, Antony Johnston
Action/Mystery/Thriller, Rated: R
Running Time: 115 minutes
Release Date: July 28, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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Well Scott, it looks like her cover is blown: Debbie Harry was a double agent in the late 1980s.

 


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

Wrong “blondie”, Greg. This one is quite nuclear. Let’s recap.


We’re introduced to blonde bombshell Lorraine Broughton. She’s a top spy for MI6 in 1989 and about as hot as Charlize Theron. She’s on a mission: it seems someone has stolen a list of all the secret agents in the Soviet Union and Lorraine has to get them before the KGB does and expose the double agent Satchel to boot.


Upon arrival in Berlin, Lorraine is ambushed by KGB agents but manages to kill them and escape. She meets her main contact in Berlin, David Percival (James McAvoy) who sets her up to be ambushed at a dead agent’s apartment. She survives this incident and then has a brief romantic fling with a French agent there named Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella).


Atomic Blonde is one drawn-out fight scene after another held together loosely by bits of plot. And when I say “bits” I’m not kidding. This is the thinnest plot I’ve ever seen in an action film. Basically, there’s a list of agents (haven’t we seen this a dozen times? Think Mission Impossible) that have to be recovered. But this time, some guy has memorized the list (haven’t we seen this before? Think Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation) and our hero needs to get him from East Berlin to West Berlin (Think Bridge of Spies). The plot wasn’t enough to keep me interested, and unless you enjoy seeing people beating each other to a pulp, you won’t be interested either.


Greg, I was thinking the same thing, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the plot of this film was thin. The plot was just fine. I’d say the movie is a satisfying albeit conventional spy thriller with a nice surprise twist at the end. You’re right that this film is saturated with bloody, bone-crunching, hand-to-hand combat scenes. These fight scenes are as gripping and painfully realistic as we’ve ever seen in the movies. While Charlize Theron’s face and fists are bruised and battered, the rest of her body remains softly feminine and unbruised. We should see welts the size of Mount Rushmore on her.

My wife and I have recently been watching Alfred Hitchcock movies from the 1950s and 60s, and we’re struck by Hitchcock’s emphasis on story and dialogue and by the paucity of violence. Movies today seem to have forgotten that story is the main dish and that action and violence are mere side dishes designed to augment the main entree. Nowadays the chase scenes and fisticuffs are not only the main dish, they seem to take up the entire plate. Atomic Blonde has strong enough story elements that we don’t need to be bombarded with mayhem from start to finish.


Well, Scott, whether we agree on the quality of the story, we’re in agreement on a trend we are seeing in major motion pictures. Filmmakers are opting for spectacle in favor of story. Atomic Blonde is not designed as a thoughtful, emotional experience. It’s more of a visual feast. We see this in other films as well. The Transformers franchise is a good example. The movie theater is becoming a place to see big films filled with visuals that don’t impress on the small screen. Meanwhile, stories with long story lines and deep characters are finding a home on television. The movie theater is, more and more, becoming an amusement park ride.


There is certainly a hero’s journey worth mentioning, although it lacks a few key elements. Lorraine is sent to Berlin and discovers it to be a hornet’s nest. She is tested in many big ways, and also finds a key love interest. She encounters villains and relies on implicit mentors from the past who trained her well in the art of lethal killing and self-defense. I don’t see much of a transformation here, as the main point of the film is to offer a blood-splattered spy story. Lorraine remains untransformed, a superhero who has superheroic powers from start to finish.


Atomic Blonde is entertainment for those who enjoy fisticuffs. The soundtrack was good if you’re a fan of 80’s new wave (which I am). But, after enjoying the synchrony between song and story in Baby Driver, this film’s use of music is much more uncoordinated background noise than soundtrack. I give Atomic Blonde 2 out of 5 Reels.

As a hero, Lorraine does alright. She’s smart and strong and easy to look at. But she doesn’t reveal many other redeeming qualities. I give her 2 out of 5 Heroes. And as you point out, there isn’t much in the way of transformation for anyone in this film. I can only muster 2 Deltas out of 5.

Movie: Heroes: Transformations:


I pretty much agree with you, Greg, except that I found that amidst all the mayhem and bloodshed in Atomic Blonde, there was a decent story to sink one’s teeth into. Charlize Theron shines in this ass-kicking role, and I liked the surprise ending quite a bit. I award this film 3 Reels out of 5.

I’ve already mentioned the deficits in the hero’s journey and I’d also like to add one other caveat on the topic of gender and heroism. Although Atomic Blonde is to be commended for featuring a woman in a strong heroic role, it is also true that it is a hyper-masculine role. You may recall that a strength of Wonder Woman was its emphasis on androgenous heroic leadership, i.e., heroism that contains elements of both agency (masculinity) and communality (femininity). Not to get on my soap box, but this world needs softer, gentler heroism from both its male and female protagonists. And yes, I admit that it’s probably unfair of me to point this out in the context of a film with a woman hero, as it is certainly a criticism of almost all movies, not just this one.

So regarding my hero rating, I’ll give Lorraine 3 Hero points out of 5. We both acknowledge that transformation was not the point of the story here, and so I’ll agree with you, Greg, that all these main characters deserve is a measly 2 transformative Deltas out of 5.

Movie: Heroes: Transformations:

Alien: Covenant •••

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup
Director: Ridley Scott
Screenplay: Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett
Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller, Rated: R
Running Time: 122 minutes
Release Date: May 19, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!


Will you enter into a covenant with me to review the latest Alien movie?


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

No doubt the words from this review will explode from the page. Let’s recap.


We meet newly minted android David (Michael Fassbender) who has been invented by genius Weyland. Then, we flash forward to the future where the crew of the Covenant is awakened by android Walter (also Michael Fassbender) from cryogenic sleep because their ship has run into trouble. The Covenant is a colony ship taking 2000 colonists to a terra-formed planet. While repairing the ship, Captain Oram (Billy Crudup) receives a message from a nearby planet. He makes a plan to go to the planet, against the advice of his second in command, Daniels (Katherine Waterston).


A team of crew members descend to the planet and notice it is void of any animal or insect species. They discover a ship that had crash-landed there years earlier. Two crew members become infected with tiny microorganisms that soon morph into creatures that explode from the crew members’ bodies. The landing craft is destroyed and android David appears on the scene to rescue the remaining crew by taking them to a sheltered area. Soon the truth about David’s motives and his past actions on the planet becomes horrifyingly clear.


Alien: Covenant is a proper prequel to the franchise started with the original Alien film from 1979. The other so-called prequel, 2012’s Prometheus was a confusing mish-mash of science fiction tropes that never quite jelled as a coherent story. There was a lot of confusion about whether Prometheus occurred within the same universe as Alien – both among fans and the filmmakers. Alien: Covenant aims to knit the story lines of the four Alien stories with the less popular Prometheus. And I think it succeeds.

Sadly, however, Alien: Covenant is not only predictable, but borrows so heavily from Alien and 1986’s Aliens that there is nothing new to see here. When we see two identical androids, we know that there’s going to be the ol’ switcheroo at some point. It’s an idea older than Star Trek’s “Enemy Within” episode with two Kirks. We aren’t surprised when there are pods in David’s basement and a “face-hugger” erupts and kills Oram. We are only surprised that Oram is so clueless as to put his face into the pod as it slowly, menacingly, opens and undulates. We saw all of this in the classic Alien films so it doesn’t shock us as it once did.


Greg, I think you’ve pretty much nailed the main issues with this movie. It’s time for the producers and writers of the Alien franchise to make a decision about what its goals are and where it should be heading. Ridley Scott, are you listening? Yes, when we go to an Alien movie, we do harbor the sick need to see razor-toothed neo-creatures explosively burst out of live human bodies. Alien: Covenant gives us three cool body-explosions with aliens chewing their way out of a man’s back, another man’s stomach (very old-school), and one out of a man’s mouth. The CGI effects are sickeningly realistic and we love it.

But what’s the point? As you’ve said, Greg, we’ve seen this before and we’ve also seen “synthetics” who oscillate between good and evil. The franchise desperately needs to move forward with fresh storylines that go beyond mere survival from face-hugging biological weaponry. The idea of a Prometheus race of superhumans who created homosapiens on earth is promising but the concept is barely explored in these past two Ridley Scott films. Let’s hope we see some much-needed inventiveness in the next Alien installment — and this inventiveness needs to extend further than showing a new bodily orifice from which a creature explodes.


The hero structure is a bit muddied. We’re not sure who we’re following in this film. At first it looks like we’re following Walter since he’s the android running the ship when the prologue is over. Then it looks like an ensemble where we’re following the crew of 12. But then the story appears to focus on Captain Oram and his difficult decisions to both save the colonists and his crew. But ultimately, it is Daniels who is the hero of the story since the rest of the crew is picked off one-by-one and Oram gets an embrace from an alien. I found it hard to know who was the main character.

As far as transformations go, there aren’t any to speak of. Oh sure, people are transformed into alien fodder. And aliens seem to go from pods to full-grown Xenomorph. Nobody really learns anything. Daniels seems like a strong character at the beginning and it’s no surprise when she goes full “Ripley” on the alien when the chips are down. This is a classic horror film set in outer space. No one really needs to grow or change since scaring the audience is the priority.


You’re right, we have a large hero ensemble operating here, although it could be argued that ultimately this is a story of two cyborgs, Walter and David, who operate not as buddy heroes but as rival heroes. The human characters are a large group and so we don’t really have sufficient time to bond with any of them, which is unfortunate. They all die one by one, and in true Ridley Scott fashion, at the end the remaining hero is a woman who is at the mercy of evil forces beyond her control. The filmmakers here have once again set the table up perfectly for a sequel.

Although it is true that there are no real transformations among the humans, the synthetic David has undergone a transformation toward the dark side. The unfortunate aspect of his transformation is that it occurs off-camera and we’re only told (sort of) how he came to destroy the Promethians and why he is now enamored with the alien creatures. There are a lot of physical transformations going on among the Xenomorphs, some of them inexplicable, but these physical changes are consistent with previous incarnations of the Alien franchise.


Alien: Covenant is a good prequel to the Alien series and a much better addition to the franchise than Prometheus. While I was entertained, there wasn’t much depth to the story and we didn’t see much that we haven’t seen before. I give Alien: Covenant 3 out of 5 Reels.

The heroes are hard to measure. In the end, I would say that Daniels is the hero as she is the last woman standing. I give her just 2 Heroes out of 5. Finally, the transformations are hard to find as well. Daniels seems to go from a submissive follower to a true leader and warrior. I give her transformation 2 out of 5 Deltas.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:


We’re basically on the same page here, Greg. A total of 3 Reels out of 5 seems about right for a movie that delivers all the blood-splattering alien killings that we hope for in an Alien film. One hopes that the next installment introduces some fresh storytelling ideas. Daniels is certainly one of the heroes in this ensemble, but I see the duo of synthetic beings, Walter and David, as the main hero pairing. Their story is fairly solid but hardly memorable, and so 2 Hero points out of 5 seems right to me. The paucity of transformations is another weakness of this film, so like you, Greg, I can only award 2 transformation Deltas out of 5.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:

The Circle 1/2

Starring: Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega
Director: James Ponsoldt
Screenplay: James Ponsoldt, Dave Eggers
Drama/Sci-Fi/Thriller, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 110 minutes
Release Date: April 27, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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Scott, it’s time to circle the wagons and review The Circle.


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

I’m coming around to it, Greg. Thanks for keeping me in the loop. Let’s recap.


We’re introduced to young Mae (Emma Watson). She works in a dull cubicle job collecting money for the water department. When one day, her best friend calls and says she got an interview with “The Circle” – an Apple/Google/Facebook-like company that specializes in social media software. The interview is a bit bizarre, but she gets in and can’t wait to get started.


Mae begins working at the Circle and immediately realizes that she is expected to make the job her entire life — her friends, activities, and parties are all arranged by the Circle. At one of these parties she meets Ty Leffit (John Boyega), one of the mythical founders of the Circle who has now gone incognito. Mae realizes that Ty doesn’t revere the Circle as everyone else seems to. Soon Mae is taken under the wing of Circle co-founder Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), who uses Mae to demonstrate the formidable power of social media.


Scott, The Circle is a movie that cannot find its center. On the one hand it wants to show us the scary side of social media and technology. On the other hand, it seems to solve all problems by adding technology to our lives.

The company introduces a mini-cam that is the size of an eyeball and can be glued to any standing structure. The idea is that it can see everything all the time. We’re never shown the downside of this but we’re led to believe there is one.

Then Mae goes “transparent” – broadcasting her every move to the world. But it gets scary when she accidentally broadcasts her parents having sex.

Then she outs a fugitive using the ubiquity of cellphone cameras. But then her best friend is killed when the same social media tool is used to chase him down. We can never tell what this film is trying to say – is technology good or bad?


I think it’s trying to say that it’s both. It’s good when used wisely and bad when used unwisely. Kind of like money, sex, marriage, and a million other things that can be good or bad.

The Circle is a well-intentioned movie about the dangers of technology in compromising our privacy. Alas, good intentions do not necessarily translate into good movies. There are major problems with this film that make me surprised that actors as seasoned as Tom Hanks and Emma Watson would agree to be a part of it.

First, this theme of technology invading privacy is hardly new. This topic has been bandied about for many years. Second, the way the storyline unfolds is painfully predictable. We know from the start that the Circle is evil, and so the ending of the film is entirely anticlimactic. Third, Emma Watson fails to portray a character who convincingly evolves from naivety to revelation. She just sort of changes one day without us seeing it happen. That’s simply bad filmmaking.


I cannot measure just how disappointed I was in this film. If you want to see both sides of an issue look at the filmcraft of Eye in the Sky. Here, three points of view about the collateral death of a young girl during a bombing the middle east are presented. It leaves the conclusions to the audience, but it makes clear that there are no good solutions.

But The Circle simply moves from one technical issue to the next with no resolution to speak of. And the writer seemed to have no comprehension of how technology works. We were dragged into an abandoned subway where apparently hard drives would be spun up with information on each of us. In fact, data is distributed across the globe to promote redundancy.

On top of that are glaring contradictions in philosophy. In one scene, Mae is devastated by the loss of her friend Mercer who died at the hands of a social media chase she instigated. She apparently has shunned technology. And so she reaches out to her friend Annie (Karen Gillan) – using her cell phone. She’s in a video chat with her friend and says: “I like this. This personal connection. This is the way people should communicate.”

This was a serious face-palm moment for me. Apparently, using the internet to have a personal conversation is alright. But using the same technology to talk to a hundred people is not. Apparently talking by way of videophone is better than meeting in person. The movie is rife with these contradictions. It was maddening.


The hero’s journey is boring and predictable. Mae is excited to join the Circle and we know from the get-go that she will eventually come around to seeing the Circle as the evil entity that it plainly is. There’s not a single surprise in this movie. The only surprise is that the film was made and that good actors found themselves trapped in the Circle.

So while Mae does undergo a transformation, we aren’t impressed because we know it’s going to happen about 10 minutes into the film. And even though Mae transforms, it’s not clear in her acting that it’s happened. You don’t see it in her eyes or in her gait or anywhere — except in the speech she gives to trap Bailey at the end. This movie is a true yawner.


I don’t have your talent for clairvoyance, apparently, Scott. I can’t see what isn’t there. There is no hero’s journey in this film. We never get to see what the leaders of The Circle want. We never see Mae overcome an obstacle because every obstacle is replaced with something beneficial: When Mercer dies, The Circle invents self-driving cars to eliminate car accidents. When The Circle realizes that all voting age people are members, they create democratic voting online. Is this good or bad? We can’t tell because the ramifications of these acts are never shown.

In the final act, when Mae exposes all of The Circle’s emails, Tom Hanks turns to his henchman and says “we’re fucked.” But we don’t know why they’re fucked – because we never saw a single email they sent. No conflict means no transformation and no story.

The Circle is the most nonsensical movie you will see this year. It has no opinions about technology. Most of the technological issues it presents have been dealt with in the recent past – and in some cases decades ago. Some very fine performances from Tom Hanks and Emma Watson are wasted. I recently called out The Promise as a cause film which did not serve its cause. The Circle is a cause film without a cause. If you avoid one movie this year, make it The Circle. I give it zero out of 5 Reels.

Mae is a likable and naive young woman with noble intentions. She loves her parents and wants to help them. She likes her friend Mercer, even if she can’t return his love. But she never encounters any real obstacles and so can never grow. As a hero, she gets a mere 1 Hero out of 5.

There are no transformations in this story. Except that I was transformed from alert and watchful to bored and sleepy. I give The Circle zero Deltas out of 5.

Movie: 0  Transformations: 0  Heroes:


The Circle certainly was a gigantic disappointment. This movie should have gone straight to DVD or blu-ray. The plot is painfully predictable and the issues about technology are not explored in any depth or in any way that holds our interest. Only true diehard fans of Tom Hanks or Emma Watson may want to give this film a look. No one else should dare go near. I give this movie 1 Reel out of 5.

Mae’s hero journey is mapped out for us from the very start, and so it’s a major disappointment not seeing a single surprise from start to finish. We’ve already talked about the lack of any meaningful transformations, so let’s get right to the ratings: 1 Hero point out of 5, and 1 transformation Delta out of 5, too.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes: