Monday, July 8, 2019


 Image may contain: one or more people, text and indoor

Rocky: Ah, Jodie. You've known me a few years. You've read some of my tales. You published my article on the psychology of a fiction writer. So, you know I have acquaintance with the world of fantasy.

Yesterday is a fantasy. A version of it many people have, me included.

I'll get to the acting, writing, and directing in a second, but first I want to respond as an audience member. Some at my viewing enjoyed it. A couple heading out of the theatre muttered things about "delusions" and "not living in the real world" and "disrespecting The Beatles."

The story itself is not real. It is delusional. It is a story that an underdog might dream. But for me, that did not take away from its entertainment value. Movies serve many purposes, but escapism is certainly one of those. And, as one who has written songs the world has never heard, I escaped into Jack's success.

Jodie: Well Rocky, I certainly agree with you, Yesterday is a fantasy. But it got me thinking about the lure of fame and the oft-quoted advice, ‘Be careful what you wish for’. With the current state of society and the role of social media in instant gratification and increased reach, also relatively instantaneous, it isn’t a surprise that there’s been a lot of research into the psychology of fame and that’s an angle I’d like to focus on in this review.

Rocky: You know stories, Jodie, the many ways they can be constructed. This one, I am happy to say, is based on the classic question, "What if …?" Yesterday asks that question. What if one of the great musical groups of the twentieth century never existed, but their songs lived in the mind of one poor player who, in the words of Shakespeare, "struts and frets his hour upon the state and then is heard no more." Such is the fate of Jack Malik, well and sympathetically played by Himesh Patel.

Jack is heard no more until he plays the song Yesterday for his friends as a fond farewell to show business. They love it, but when Jack explains that it is a song by The Beatles, no one, not a single soul, has heard of them … or the song.

From here, the "what if" is predictable. He has a "manager," a longtime childhood friend Ellie Appleton (Lily James, in a lovely performance) who teaches math by day. Of course, he is in love with her, has been forever, but has never been able to summon the courage to tell her. Of course, we can tell that she certainly wants him to. Which begs the question, aren't we in an age where a woman can initiate these things, rather than saying, "I've waited twenty years for you, and you blew it, sport?" Just a question.

Predictable, Jodie, and a tad old fashioned.

Jodie: It’s this relationship Rocky that highlights my observations.

Much research likens fame to a high, one which is highly addictive. Like any high, the lure is very attractive, it feels good, and after experiencing it, it’s natural to want that feeling again, and again, and again. It can get to the point where the high consumes our thoughts and then our behaviours and of course, a tolerance builds, requiring more and more and more to get the same feeling. In the constant pursuit of that high, relationships can be abandoned, other responsibilities in life forgotten or left behind… loss and change in exchange for the bright lights.

Jack had been plugging away for years at pub gigs, no one except his friends really ever listening to his music, but like every artist, he’s motivated to share his art with a wider audience for whatever personally inspires him. If a tree falls in a forest without anyone to witness it, did it truly make a sound?

Jack, on that fateful night, was handed the Beatles’ fame, all in one go! What a dream! Or was it?

Rocky: But still enjoyable. Harlequin romances are predictable as hell. The reader knows what is coming, just not the how. The how is what stimulates the reader. In Yesterday, the how is what will stimulate the dreamer, because I just can't see pragmatists or realists enjoying this movie, unless it is for the timeless music of The Beatles. Most everyone will enjoy that, and maybe his encounter with the man who helps him see the light.

Jodie, I think dreamers are who this movie is for. In the way of Field of Dreams.

I am a dreamer.

The "how" in this case is predictable, but well done. I enjoyed the two different fantasies. The first dealing with drinking from the chalice of fame and fortune is rags to riches. The second concerning Jack plucking up the courage to tell Ellie that he loves her is classic shy guy feeling less-than. I thought the latter sequences suffered a little in the editing (or maybe it was the writing or directing), but the relationship was still there.

Jodie: It is classic and it is predictable, but in keeping with my argument, it wasn’t until Jack lost Ellie that he realized he loved her. As he toured the world, as he recorded records, after he left her back in their hometown teaching teenagers, he realized the emptiness of his pursuits.

The guilt, his imposter syndrome, the constant fear of being found out all served as his Damocles’ Swords. The further his fame developed, the less joy or high he felt.

Rocky: Adding spice to the sauce is the wonderful Ed Sheeran playing himself. His presence in the movie is not a cameo like Dustin Hoffman's was in The Holiday. Ed Sheeran is an actor playing Ed Sheeran, a major music star, just like the great director Cecil B. DeMille played himself in Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard. And I never would have believed that a star of Sheeran's magnitude would portray himself the way he did. Stars of any age are so image conscious. Always have been. Always will be. This role did not lend itself to propelling his public image from demi-god to godlike status, though he is sympathetic.

I applaud him for it.

Yesterday is not a brilliant movie, but it wasn't trying to be. I enjoyed what the cast and crew brought to the screen and liked it for what it was; a fantasy in the tradition of James Thurber's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Jodie: I absolutely adored The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. That film was life changing for me, so I’m devastated that you’ve compared it to Yesterday. It wasn’t a brilliant movie, I agree. I almost fell asleep. I have to say, I was in a really comfortable theatre recliner though! I enjoyed Jack’s voice. I’m glad fame wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. I liked that the two people allowed him to continue to share the Beatle’s music with the world, because it was all about the music afterall.

I felt sorry for Jack, coming down from his high. Adjusting his life to suit his overnight fame, the losses of his relationships, the guilt, the highs and the lows.

Rocky: It's a feel-good movie.

Oh, Jodie. I found myself mentally yelling at the screen "You fool! Tell her you love her." I've been that fool once or twice (or three times). That was the defining moment for me, the one shouting that the script was occasionally uneven and cliché, the directing not particularly inspired, and a couple of characters were a bit too melodramatic, even for a fantasy, but I still enjoyed it.

I felt good.

I'm giving this a 6 1/2 out of 10. Dreamers will like it. Others may be checking their watches the last forty minutes or so.

Both would be valid reactions.

What do you think, Jodie?

Jodie: I agree with you Rocky. A 6.5/10. I was checking my watch. I was trying not to fall asleep. I had high hopes. They weren’t satisfied. That would’ve been a better Netflix on a rainy day kind of movie for me.

Sunday, June 9, 2019


Writers Rocky Hatley, the actor, and Jodie Fleming, the psychologist, met and became friends in the Literary Kitchen, an online writing class taught by Ariel Gore. Bonding over their mutual love of writing and cinema, they join forces to critique movies in a way that only an actor and a psychologist can. Unique and insightful. This is their review of the story of Elton John, Rocketman.
R: Ah, Jodie. When Elton John released "Your Song" here in America in 1970. I became a fan and have been since. So, when I heard that Rocketman would be coming out, I had an inkling that I might like it.
I didn't like it.
I loved it.

J: Well Rocky, even though I grew up with Elton John’s music, and loved it, I actually considered not seeing Rocketman when I first saw its trailer. If not for an invitation for a girls’ night out at the movies, I might not have seen one of the greatest human tales I have ever seen.

R: You know Jodie, one of the most difficult roles to play is someone in living memory. The successful ones can win Oscars. Sissy Spacek did in 1980 for playing Loretta Lynn. Rami Malek did this past year for playing Freddy Mercury. Two years ago, Gary Oldman won for playing Sir Winston Churchill. I do confess that I'm stretching "living memory" with Churchill. He died when I was seven.
The less successful ones can be embarrassing to behold.
I certainly believe Taron Egerton will receive Academy Award consideration for his portrayal of Elton John. He was that good. As flamboyant as Elton John was during the period covered by the movie, the temptation would have been to go way, way, way over the top chewing up the scenery along the way.
He did no such thing.

J: I think one of things dissuading me from going initially was Taron’s lack of likeness to Elton. Worried I wouldn’t ‘see’ Elton but instead, the actor, I was very pleasantly surprised as the movie progressed, that the character ‘became’ Elton, physically and in voice as well.

R: He brought the flamboyance, no doubt. But he also brought the deep pain brought on by an indifferent father and a cold-hearted mother, wonderfully played by Steven Mackintosh and Bryce Dallas Howard respectively. I have to be honest here. I never would have pictured Bryce Dallas Howard in this role. Not that she isn't a good actor. She is wonderful. But shame on me for doubting her because she nailed it, delivering the coldest line in the movie absolutely straight. One that sent chills down my spine.

J: Do you know Rocky, I didn’t even realise that Bryce played Elton’s mother! And worse than that, I didn’t even realise that his horrible manager, John Reid, was played by none other than Rob Stark! Haha, clearly not his real name.
Rocketman is a psychologist’s dream movie. We are literally following Elton throughout his drug and alcohol group therapy program for the duration of the movie. There’s so much to admire in the moviemaking of this theme of addiction that plagues Elton’s early career and is so accurately portrayed in this film.
Anyone interested in addiction theories in recent times will have stumbled across Johann Hari who says that, ‘the opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety, it’s connection.’ Well, I had that running through my mind whenever confronted with a scene involving little Reggie (and big Elton for that matter!) and his detached and verbally abusive mother and emotionally absent father likely living with post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in the army. With problematic attachments to both parents (thank goodness for Nan!), Elton sought out deep love and connection but sadly entered unhealthy relationships and turned to drugs and alcohol – addiction – in order to feel good, or to numb the pain. Johann Hari is certainly onto something in the need for love in treating addiction.
I know for you Rocky, you’ll be more focused on the writing and direction of the film.

R: The whole movie began with an amazing script by Lee Hall that effortlessly uses the songs to take us to and through the phases of Elton John's unconventional life.
Dexter Fletcher (Bohemian Rhapsody) certainly knows how to direct a music biopic. He took us all the way from Broadway musical to the depths of booze, drugs, sex, and despair. Beautifully done.

J: So beautifully done. One of my favourite observations was the gradual shedding of Elton’s elaborate costume he wore as he burst through the therapy door. As he shed his defenses, as he peeled back his protective layers and we were allowed inside the man, so too, did the costume, the mask, come off, until there he sat, in a bath robe.

R: I've heard criticism about how this movie is nothing more than yet another successful rise to richesses and fall to booze, drugs, and sex. Those who see it that way don't seem to get that this was Elton John's life. That it was made in a unique way, allowing the songs to tell the story along with the actors and the camera, make all the difference for me.
I also enjoyed the performances of Jamie Bell as Elton John's longtime writing partner the loyal and talented Bernie Taupin. And Richard Madden shined as the greedy, self-centered manager and former lover John Reid.

J: Bernie and Elton’s friendship is one to be envied. It also highlighted the fact though no one can save another until that other is willing to help themselves. Bernie being there at the end of Elton’s treatment is a shining example of what is needed for true recovery. The fact that they remain friends who have never argued, into Elton’s healthy relationship with husband David and fatherhood with their two sons, certainly highlights that friendship as one of Elton’s greatest protective factors.
My absolute favourite moment though, has to be the scene when therapy ends and Elton visualizes all of his key players including his parents, and also little Reggie, who asks Elton, ‘when are you going to hug me?’
What beautiful symbolism that we all need to practice self-love and self-compassion and that the adult version of ourselves can heal and nurture our childhood versions of ourselves in order to accept our past and ourselves.

R: I'm giving Rocketman a 10.

J: From a psychological perspective, I’m going to give it an 9/10.
We’d love to know whether we got it right! Send us your comments and scores for Rocketman. Let’s see how we did compared to your reviews. And if you like this review, share it with your friends and send us through your recommendations for films you’d like reviewed by The Actor & The Psychologist.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Dear Jodie - The Martian

The Martian film poster.jpgDear Jodie,

I've never thought much of Matt Damon as an actor. Oh, I've always found him to be competent and serviceable, but not great … or even good really. I'm not going to say that The Martian completely changed all of that for me, but it was a start.  He was good, quite good actually, and in a roll that if he had been only competent and serviceable the movie would have fallen flat on its ass.

Why is that?  Because he is alone for most of his scenes, and that is incredibly difficult to play. Tom Hanks did it well in "Cast Away."

This movie just rocked me … no pun intended.

For me, Ridley Scott's movies move a bit slowly sometimes and The Martian is no exception. In this case, though, I think it was necessary. We needed a little time to FEEL Mark's isolation. We need time to RELATE to Mark as he did things few humans can do, if any. I confess I have no idea whether it is scientifically possible to make water the way that he did. Is it possible?  I don't know and don't care, really. I believed it. We needed the time to CONNECT.

BAM! We have a movie!

I liked the Jessica Chastain character, Lewis. She owned her error … and I think she could have searched more in the beginning than she did. But, then again, I'm sitting in a theatre seat making judgments. I truly don't know if spit hit the fan whether I would have done any different … or as much. Regardless, she owned it, and made sure the decision to risk it all to save Mark was unanimous. When everyone agreed, she went into action to save him.

I'm thinking you really must have gotten into the human choices made … or not made.

Like NASA's decision whether to let him die, or go for it. Only when NASA determined that it would get out that they let him die, did they determine to do the right thing. It had nothing to do about saving a human being. It had to do with the decision best equipped to save their collective backsides.

Damn, that made me angry … just as Ridley Scott intended.

I also wanted a little more on the families of the astronauts. That was a helluva sacrifice they made, and we really didn't get much on that. It seemed glossed over.

Those complaints, though, are minor.

This movie was such a fun ride for me, Jodie! I'm giving it 8 out of 10!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Dear Jodie - The Breakfast Club

Dear Jodie,

The Breakfast Club came out in 1985, which was the year of my ten-year high school reunion. My brother (nine years my junior) dragged me to see it kicking and screaming. That being said, I walked out of it knowing I had seen a good one. Now, thirty years later, I think it is one of the best movies ever made about school days.

John Hughes told the truth, even though that truth did not sympathize with the teaching staff. It sympathized with the teenagers and the intense pressures they faced every day, from home, school, and themselves.

The movie is talking heads, and pulling that off requires a superb scrip and fabulous actors. Hughes's dialogue is first rate, particularly his ability to capture the way teenagers speak, though I suspect he made at least one up.

Look, I can see you getting all bunged up for them making you wear these kinda clothes. But face it, you're a Neo-Maxi-Zoom-Dweebie!

Yeah, I suspect Neo-Maxi-Zoom-Dweebie is all John Hughes.

Ah, the actors. What can I say? All were wonderful, and perfectly cast. They lit the screen with their own particular stereotype then twisted and swirled until they blended with each other. Molly Ringwald's and Anthony Michael Hall's stood out for me because they were at least five years younger than the other three, but more than held their own. And some of the dialogue was improvised by the actors. For example, Anthony Michael Hall improvised the line …

Chick cannot hold their smoke. That's what it is.

That's my favorite line in the movie!

There were a few things that seemed like gaffs to me. I mean, come on … they run around the school within a few feet of Vernon and he can't hear them? In a relatively empty school, Vernon would have been able to hear them from a whole lot farther away. How about Claire's lunch? I like sushi, too, but I'm damn sure not going to eat it when it's been sitting out for four hours.

Claire - Can I eat?
Bender - I don't know. Give it a try.

But those "gaffs" really only endeared the movie to me even more.

Speaking of lunch, how about the size of Andrew's! That would feed three hungry people.

In order for the movie to work, the teens have to have their foil, and wasn't Paul Gleason perfect? That he played the mean, nasty assistant principal Richard "Dick" Vernon, honestly gave serious laughs to things like "I won't be made a fool of," when he turned around only to find the toilet seat cover dangling from his trousers. Or Bender silently mocking him on the "I'm cracking skulls" line.

I enjoyed the scenes in the basement file area between Vernon and Carl the Janitor. Did you notice Carl's annual picture at the beginning of the movie? We get a little more insight into Vernon's character. I think since I was twenty-seven when the movie came out I realized early on that Vernon didn't want to be there either. He represented what Allison (Ally Sheedy) meant when she said, "When you grow up, your heart dies." In his case, I think "dying" would be a better word, because his heart was hanging on by a thread.

Love the pencil carousel!

I have to give this beautiful movie a 10 out of 10.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Dear Jodie - 84 Charing Cross Road

Dear Jodie,

I am so happy you enjoyed 84 Charing Cross Road! When I mentioned it to you, I had just seen it again for the first time in a decade and immediately thought of you. Yes, for the reasons you mention in that the story is quite similar in ways to ours.

Just as importantly, I know of your love of relationship movies and thought you might enjoy it. I've recommended this movie two other times; both people hated it asking, "what's the big deal." Both times I said, "it's about friendship, and that's a very big deal to me." One shrugged. The other said, "I suppose so." Bless their hearts, it wasn't that they didn't value friendship, they do. They both were and still are friends of mine. It's just that they preferred a little more action in their movies. The Mission Impossible movies would be more to their liking.

Damn, I'm glad you enjoyed it!

What made this movie extra special to me was that this is a true story. As much fiction as I read and write I still have to pinch myself as a reminder that these events really happened, much of it in my own lifetime.

There was a Helene Hanff, pictured above, (1916 - 1997) who turned to FPD (Frank Percy Doel) and Marks & Co. in London for books she could not obtain in New York. There was a Frank Doel (1908 - 1968) pictured below with his family whose only job after completing his education was with Marks & Co.

Anne Bancroft was marvelous as the cigarette smoking, gin and tonic drinking writer (martinis in real life) and lover of non-fiction books. "I love 'I was there' stories."  The irony here is that her scripts were fiction! What a lovely Helene Hanff Bancroft created on the screen.

Anthony Hopkins shined as the family man, English football loving book buyer who found time to visit a ill colleague in the hospital, and take his young daughter's suggestion for a Christmas tree decoration, and who would always compliment his wife's dinner as, "Very nice. Very tasty."

One of my favorite supporting performances was Maurice Denham as the elderly George Martin. His lonely smile as he prepared his share of the food that Helene sent to the shop really touched me ... especially when we realized he would share it with his cat. Animal lovers always go to my heart. I would like to have known George Martin.

I would have loved to have visited him in that hospital where he was alone in a crowd.

We got a glimpse of the lives of a number of the staff as well.  Cecily Farr making a cake for her children. Bill Humphries bringing a smile to his great aunt's face with the ham. Frank and Nora having a coronation get-together with friends.

Beautiful moments, small moments that really make a difference in the course of a human life.

All of this, Jodie, because a woman in New York had a thirst for English Literature, and a book buyer in London went to great lengths to satisfy it.

What a glorious movie this is!

I would be remiss if I didn't say that Anne Bancroft's real life husband, Mel Brooks, he of Blazing Saddles, and Young Frankenstein and so many other off-the-wall comedies, produced 84 Charing Cross Road.

I wish I had told you of this movie sooner so that you could have gone to the address while you were in London. Or maybe not. Had you gone there, you would have been able to see a plaque commemorating the address. True. Helene Hanff's memoir (1971), and the subsequent play and the movie, did make the address famous. You also would have been able to order a Big Mac for lunch. The building is still there, but the occupant of that address is a McDonalds.

Still, I want to go back to London. When I do, one visit I will make will be to 84 Charing Cross Road, even if I have to buy a Big Mac rather than Donne or Pepys!

Funny, I'm an American who has never been to New York City! London, yes.  Upstate New York, yes. But not New York City.  I'm going there, too. The apartment building where Helene Hanff lived at 305 E. 72nd Street has been named "Charing Cross House" in her honor. A bronze plaque next to the front door commemorates her residence and authorship of the book.

Yeah.  I want to see that, too!

Like you, I give this movie a solid 8 out of 10!

P. S. In real life, when Helene was in London, she did meet Nora Doel and Sheila, and a number of the former staff. They remained friends, and I hope Nora learned to pronounce Helene's first name!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Dear Jodie - Hector and the Search for Happiness

Dear Jodie:

The first part of Hector and the Search for Happiness dragged on a bit for me I have to say. Then, on the plane to Los Angeles, Hector the Psychiatrist encounters the woman with the brain tumor. There, in poker parlance, I went "all in."

What does Hector do when he encounters her and gives her his first class seat? He listens. That's all. But he listens unlike he had been listening to his clients, probably for a long time. He doesn't feel that he did a thing except tell her what she already suspected, that she was going to die. She tells him her dream of the carousel and her family, and then says, "This is my last ride, isn't it?"  Hector says simply and effectively, "yes." That is the point that I saw Hector (and Simon Pegg) open, though he couldn't see it and disclaimed any praise. But the woman saw more than that and tells him that "Listening is Loving," which I suspect he eventually wrote in his journal, but not until saying goodbye to the woman at LAX.

"Listening is Loving."

I went all in at that point, Jodie, and you know that it was rather late in the movie, but it was because Hector went all in.  And as charming as he was throughout the first part of the movie, I thought he really nailed it beginning on the plane.

The early parts of the movie didn't quite do it for me.  For example, when he was in the jail with the one ­— and only one — rat (and a friendly one it was, too) in Africa I just kept wondering whether he would get his journal, wallet, and passport back when they let him go.  And I think that was because these events just sort of came along with no rhyme or reason. They didn't come from any real place and became way too episodic.

That was the first part.

The rest of the movie played out marvelously well, though predictable as hell.  Toni Collette was excellent as Hector's old flame Agnes.  Christopher Plummer gave an always-solid performance as Professor Coreman, the guru of happiness.  I did love how the eventual colors of his brain scan reflected the different colors of the pennants at the monastery blowing in the breeze.

And I don't mind predictability as long as it's well done. The last part of this movie was well done.

Just looking back at the movie, it was a bit like The Wizard of Oz with Clara being both Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, and the Wicked Witch of the West. And through it all, Hector always had the ability to click his heels together and proclaim, "There's no place like home."  But he had to discover that for himself, and, to my mind, he did … once they reached Los Angeles.

Had the movie concluded as it began, I would have given it 4 out of 10. The last twenty minutes or so bumped it up for me to a 7 out of 10.

Yep.  "Listening is Loving."

So 7 out of 10 it shall be!

What did you think, Jodie?

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Dear Jodie - Woman in Gold

Woman in Gold film poster.pngDear Jodie,

Woman in Gold is, on the surface, a story about an elderly Jewish woman's attempt to get back some valued paintings (heirlooms) stolen from her family by the Nazi's, sometime after the Anschluss.

Her name is Maria Altmann.

But it's about so much more than that, isn't it?

I don't even know where to start really.  My emotions are still running wild having just seen it.  And maybe that's the brilliance of this movie; its emotional impact.

I ran the gamut, as I watched this elderly woman fight so hard to come to terms with her horrific past despite her fear, and this young man risk so much to come to terms with his future.

I loved the flashback integrations and thought that Tatiana Maslany was every bit as wonderful as the ever-brilliant Helen Mirren. Unfortunately, I think Woman in Gold was released too early in the year to get serious Oscar notice, otherwise I think this might be the third time in which two women were nominated for Oscars playing the same role in the same movie.

I can't say I hated the Austrian government in the movie. I just thought that this is what governments do, unfair though it may be, and it was damned unfair.

I completely agree with you that the most gut-wrenching scene in the movie was Maria's farewell to her parents!  I could not help but cry, especially when her father smiled and spoke English, "the language of your future home."

The biggest surprise for me in the movie was the performance given by Ryan Reynolds. I was so afraid of getting the Green Lantern, but he was quite good.

I completely agree with you that this movie was about relationships, the most compelling being the one between the older woman so grievously damaged in her youth, and a young man living in the shadow of his grandfather who changed Western music forever with the "twelve-tone technique."

That, then, makes the Klimt paintings the Macguffin.

One lovely moment I would like to mention is the place where the Austrian journalist Hubertus Czernin admits to the Jewish Maria Altmann that his father was a Nazi. Her reaction was perfect, patting him on the hand and telling him that he is a good man. The real Maria said of him, "Without Hubertus, there would have been nothing." The real Hubertus died in 2006 at the age of 50 of mastocytosis, his obituary saying, "Believing in justice for Maria Altmann kept Czernin alive."

I lost myself in this movie. I completely lived the depiction of the Anschluss, and the coldness of the modern day Austrians (loved those kangaroos, huh?). I travelled back in time with Maria and loved how modern day Maria finally joined them in the ending scene letting us know how much she was able to let go.

Simon Curtis's direction was amazing!

Most of all, though, Jodie, I lived in the emotion of the film.  This is one of those rare ones for me. When it comes out on DVD, I'm buying it!

10 out of 10

I'm sure the brownies were amazing!