Film Review: The Divergent Series: Allegiant (dir by Robert Schwentke)


Oh, Who Gives A Fuck About This Fucking Movie?

Oh, who cares?

I really hate to start my review with such a negative statement but seriously, after watching Allegiant today, I am now convinced that the Divergent movies are perhaps the least interesting film franchise since the Paranormal Activity sequels.  Not only are the films so derivative of The Hunger Games that I’m always surprised that Donald Sutherland isn’t lurking around in the background but they’ve also managed to waste the talents of some of the best actors of my generation.  When you’ve got performers like Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller at your disposal, there’s no excuse not to be interesting.

I watched Allegiant with my BFF Evelyn and I’ll admit right now that we talked throughout the entire movie.  We laughed at the most serious of moments.  When Jeff Daniels showed up, we had a very long discussion about how, when he’s good, Jeff Daniels is really good but when he’s bad, he manages to come across as being the most boring man on the planet.  When Miles Teller betrayed his allies, Evelyn said, “Again!?” and then she had to remind me that Miles Teller always ends up betraying everyone in every Divergent film.

(It makes you wonder why the Tris (played by Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) always bring Miles Teller with them as opposed to just killing him.  I suppose some of it might have to do with the fact that he’s Miles Teller and he’s a badass.  In fact, he probably should be playing Four.  He certainly has more chemistry with Shailene Woodley than Theo James does.  In fact, Theo James always looks like he’d rather be doing anything other than appearing in another goddamn Divergent film.)

And yes, Evelyn and I did get a few dirty looks from some people in the audience but you know what?  I fully understand that it’s rude to talk through a movie but oh my God, we had to do something.  Allegiant is such a boring movie.  The film moves slowly, as if the filmmakers don’t understand that everyone in the audience has seen enough YA adaptations to already know everything that’s going to happen.  If you want to truly understand what film critics mean when they say that a film is “draggy,” try to watch an entire Divergent film without standing up to stretch your legs or get something to drink.  Perhaps the biggest mistake you can make while watching Allegiant is to actually concentrate on what’s slowly playing out on screen.

The Divergent films aren’t terribly complicated and yet, I always find myself struggling to follow them.  They’re so bland and forgettable that I can never remember what happened in the previous film.  As Allegiant started, I was like, “Why is Naomi Watts in charge of Chicago now?  Oh yeah, Kate Winslet did die at the end of the last movie!”  And then I remembered that Evelyn was Four’s mother.

And then my BFF Evelyn (as opposed to the film’s Evelyn) said, “Four is a stupid name,” and I started laughing way too hard.  In fact, we made many jokes about Four’s nickname and then eventually, I remembered that he was called Four because he only has four fears.  But it took me a while to remember and, once I did remember, I couldn’t help but think about how stupid a backstory that was.

Anyway, the plot of the film is that the movie’s Evelyn is now in charge of Chicago but she’s turning out to be just as bad as the system that she’s replacing.  So, Tris, Four, and friends escape from Chicago and explore the barren landscape that surrounds the city.  Eventually, they are found by the Bureau of Genetic Welfare.  The Bureau is headed up by a boring guy named David (Jeff Daniels).  At first, David seems to be a good guy but then it turns out that the Bureau was behind the whole Faction experiment.  And now the Bureau wants to attack Chicago, wipe the slate clean, and start the experiment all over again.

Will Four and Tris go along with David’s plan or will they try to stop him?

At this point, who cares?

The thing that’s annoying about the Divergent films is that the storyline has potential.  At the heart of it all, the battle between the Factions and the Factionless has the potential to be a powerful, if simplistic, metaphor.  But the films are so plodding and take such an obvious approach that most of that potential is wasted.  Add to that, Shailene Woodley is a great actress.  In fact, I think it can be argued that she actually has more range than Jennifer Lawrence.  (Just check out her performance in The Spectacular Now.)  But the franchise has never known what to do with her uniquely off-center style.  Instead, it simply gives her speeches that feel as if they’ve been lifted from every other dystopian YA franchise.  The films insist on trying to make Shailene Woodley predictable and she deserves better on that.

As is typical of big franchise films nowadays, Allegiant is just part one of the Divergent finale and even the “to be continued” ending feels annoying because it’s so obviously lifted from every other franchise finale that’s ever been produced.  As with all the Divergent films, Allegiant never escapes the shadow of The Hunger Games.  The best that can be said about this franchise is that it will be over soon.  Hopefully, Shailene Woodley will be able to move onto a film more worthy of her considerable talents.

Playing Catch-Up With 6 Film Reviews: Avengers Grimm, Bad Asses On The Bayou, Hayride 2, Insurgent, Poltergeist, Tomorrowland


Here are 6 films that I saw during the first half of 2015.  Some of them are on Netflix and some of them were major studio releases.  Some of them are worth seeing.  Some of them most definitely are not.

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Avengers Grimm (dir by Jeremy M. Inman)

Obviously made to capitalize on the popularity of Avengers: Age of UltronAvengers Grimm opens with a war in the world of fairy tales.  Evil Rumpelstiltskin (Casper Van Dien) uses Snow White’s (Laura Parkinson) magic mirror to cross over into our world and he takes Snow White with him!  It’s now up to Cinderella (Milynn Sharley), Sleeping Beauty (Marah Fairclough), and Rapunzel (Rileah Vanderbilt) to cross over into our world, save Snow White, and defeat Rumpelstiltskin.  Also sneaking over is rebellious Red Riding Hood (Elizabeth Petersen) who is determined to kill Rumpelstiltskin’s henchman, The Wolf (Kimo Leopoldo).  

Got all that?

Avengers Grimm is another enjoyably insane mockbuster from The Asylum.  The budget’s low, the performances are intentionally melodramatic, and it’s all lot of fun.  Casper Van Dien has a lot of fun playing evil, the women all get to kick ass, and Lou Ferrigno is well-cast as a labor leader named Iron John.

Avengers Grimm is currently available on Netflix.

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Bad Asses On The Bayou (dir by Craig Moss)

Apparently, this is the third film in which Danny Trejo and Danny Glover have respectively played Frank Vega and Bernie Pope, two old guys who kick ass in between worrying about their prostates.  I haven’t seen the previous two Bad Asses films but I imagine that it really doesn’t matter.

In this film, Trejo and Glover go to Louisiana to attend a friend’s wedding.  When she’s kidnapped, they have to rescue her and impart some important life lessons to her younger brother.  It’s all pretty predictable but then again, it’s also pretty good for a film called Bad Asses On The Bayou.  This is a film that promises two things: Danny Trejo kicking ass and lots of bayou action.  And it delivers on both counts.

In fact, I would say that Bad Asses On The Bayou is a better showcase for Danny Trejo’s unique style than the better known Machete films.  Danny Trejo is a surprisingly adept comedic actor and he gives a performance here that shows his talent goes beyond mere physical presence.

Bad Asses On The Bayou is currently available on Netflix.

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Hayride 2 (dir by Terron R. Parsons)

I should admit up front that I haven’t seen the first Hayride film.  Luckily, Hayride 2 picks up directly from the end of the first film and is filled with so many flashbacks and so much conversation about what happened that it probably doesn’t matter.

Essentially, Pitchfork (Wayne Dean) is a murderous urban legend who turns out to be real.  He killed a lot of people in the first film and he stalks those that escaped throughout the 2nd film.  Like all good slasher villains, Pitchfork is a relentless killer.  He’s also an unrepentant racist, which leads to a genuinely unpleasant scene where he attacks a black detective (Corlandos Scott).  Say whatever else you will about the film, Hayride 2 deserves some credit for being on the side of the victims.  No attempt is made to turn Pitchfork into an anti-hero and the movie is relentlessly grim.

Hayride 2 is an odd film.  The film’s low-budget is obvious in every single scene.  The pacing is abysmal and the performances are amateurish.  And yet, when taken on its own meager terms, it has a dream-like intensity to it that I appreciated.  Then again, I always have had a weakness for low-budget, regional horror films.

Hayride 2 is available on Netflix.

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Insurgent (dir by Robert Schwentke)

Insurgent is both the sequel to Divergent and was also 2015’s first YA dystopia film.  Shailene Woodley is as good as ever and I guess it’s good that she has a commercially successful franchise, which will hopefully inspire audiences to track down better Shailene Woodley films like The Spectacular Now.  

All that said, Insurgent often felt even more pointless than Divergent.  For a two-hour film featuring performers like Woodley, Kate Winslet, Octavia Spencer, Ansel Elgort, and Miles Teller, Insurgent has no excuse for being as forgettable and boring as it actually was.  The next installment in The Hunger Games can not get here soon enough.

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Poltergeist (dir by Gil Kenan)

When a family (led by Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt) move into a new house, they discover that everything is not what it seems.  For one thing, they come across a bunch of creepy clown dolls.  They also hear a lot of scary sounds.  They discover that the house was built on an old cemetery.  Their youngest daughter vanishes.  And finally, someone says, “Isn’t this like that old movie that was on TCM last night?”

Okay, they don’t actually say that.  However, as everyone knows, the 2015 Poltergeist is a remake of the 1982 Poltergeist.  Since the 1982 Poltergeist still holds up fairly well, the 2015 Poltergeist feels incredibly unnecessary.  It has a few good jump scenes and it’s always good to see Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt in lead roles but ultimately, who cares?  It’s just all so pointless.

Watch the wall-dancing original.  Ignore the remake.

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Tomorrowland (dir by Brad Bird)

Welcome to the world of tomorrow!  Wow, is it ever boring!

Actually, I feel a little bit bad about just how much I disliked Tomorrowland because this is a film that really did have the best intentions.  Watching the film, you get the sinking feeling that the people involved actually did think that they were going to make the world a better place.  Unfortunately, their idea of a better world is boring and almost oppressively optimistic.  There is no room for cynicism in Tomorrowland.  Bleh.  What fun is that?

Anyway, the film basically steals its general idea from the Atlas Shrugged trilogy.  Tomorrowland is a secret place that is inhabited by inventors, dreamers, and iconoclasts.  Years ago, Frank (George Clooney) was banished from Tomorrowland because, after learning that the Earth was destined to end, he lost “hope” in mankind’s future.  Fortunately, he meets Casey (Britt Robertson), who is full of hope and through her, he gets to return.  They also get a chance to save the world and battle a cartoonish super villain played by Hugh Laurie.  (Why is he a villain?  Because he’s played by Hugh Laurie, of course!)

After all the hype and build-up, Tomorrowland turned out to be dull and predictable.  What a shame.  The Atlas Shrugged trilogy was at least fun because it annoyed the hipsters at the AV Club.  Tomorrowland is just forgettable.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #108: The Brave One (dir by Neil Jordan)


Brave_one_2007For our next entry in Embracing the Melodrama Part II, we take a look at Jodie Foster in the 2007 film The Brave One.  And…

Well, how to put this delicately?

I hate hate hate hate HATE this movie, with every last fiber of my being.  I hated it the first time that I saw it and I hated it when I recently rewatched it and right now, I’m hating the fact that I even decided to review this damn film because it means that I’m going to have to think about it.  I’m going to try to get this review over with quickly because, with each minute that I think about this film, I doubt my commitment to cinema.  That’s how much I hate this movie.  If I’m not careful, I’m going to end up joining a nunnery before I finish this review…

So, in The Brave One, Jodie Foster plays Erica Bain.  Erica lives in New York and hosts one of those pretentious late night radio shows that are always popular in movies like this but which, in real life, nobody in their right mind would waste a second listening to.  Erica spends her time musing about life in the big city and hoping that we can all just love one another and expressing a lot of other thoughts that sound like they’ve been stolen from an automated twitter account.

Erica also has a boyfriend.  His name is David and he’s played by Naveen Andrews.  That means that he looks good and he has a sexy accent and when he first shows up, you hope that he’ll stick around for a while because otherwise, you’re going to have to listen to move of Erica’s radio monologues.  But nope — one night, while walking through Central Park, David and Erica are attacked.  David is killed.  Erica is raped.  And their dog is taken by the gang!

(And the film doesn’t seem to know which it thinks is worse…)

When Erica gets out of the hospital, she is, at first, terrified to leave her apartment.  Or, at least, she’s terrified to leave her apartment for about five minutes.  But then she does find the courage to go outside and, of course, the first thing she does is buy a gun.  At first, she’s buying the gun for her own state of mind but, almost immediately after purchasing her firearms, she happens to stumble across a convenience store robbery.

Bang!  Bang!  Erica’s a vigilante now!

But, of course, she’s not really sure if that’s what she wants to be.  Even though she eventually ends up sitting on a subway and waiting for a guy to approach her so she can shoot him, Erica is still never really that comfortable with the idea of seeking vengeance.  And this is why I hated The Brave One.  The film is so damned wishy washy about Erica’s motivations.  Instead of allowing Erica to get any sort of satisfaction or emotional fulfillment out of her actions, The Brave One has her constantly doubting whether or not violence is the answer.  And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that violence is the answer.  But if you’re going to make a film about a female vigilante who is out looking for vengeance, why don’t you at least allow her to get some sort of empowerment out of her actions?  That doesn’t mean that the film itself can’t be ambiguous about what she’s doing.  But by having Erica constantly questioning her actions, it makes her into a weak character and it lets the men who raped her and the ones who subsequently threaten to do the same off the hook.  It allows them to be seen as victims, as opposed to products of a society where men are raised to believe that women will never fight back.

There’s a far superior New York-set film that has almost the same plot as The Brave One.  The title of that film was Ms. 45.  It was made for a hundred times less money than The Brave One and, at the same time, it was and remains a hundred times better.  (I previously wrote about Ms. 45 and The Brave One in my essay, Too Sordid To Ever Be Corrupted.)

The difference between the two films can be summed up by the film’s tag lines.  The Brave One was advertised with, “How many wrongs to make it right?”  Ms. 45 was advertised with: “She was abused and violated … IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN!”   Ms. 45 features a vigilante who never doubts her actions and, as a result, she becomes a symbol not of violence but of empowerment.  Meanwhile, Jodie Foster is so constantly wracked with guilt and doubt that the film almost seems to be criticizing her for not staying in her apartment and trusting the police (represented by Terrence Howard and Nicky Katt) to do their job.

Oh!  And, of course, at the end of the film, Erica gets her dog back.  Because nobody ever permanently loses their dog in a big budget studio film…

And really, that’s why The Brave One is such a failure.  It takes a subject that was tailor-made for the grindhouse and attempts to give it the slick and self-important studio approach.  And part of that approach is that no one can be offended.  This is a film that both wants to celebrate and condemn at the same time.

And that’s why I say, “Give me Ms. 45!”

At least that movie knows what it wants to say…

Film Review: Good Kill (dir by Andrew Niccol)


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Good Kill is an angry film that is somewhat grounded by a strong lead performance from Ethan Hawke.  Hawke was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Boyhood and … well, he probably won’t be nominated for anything for Good Kill.  The film’s coming out too early in the year and it’s not really a crowd-pleasing Oscar movie.  It’s too angry and polemical but still, Ethan Hawke gives an excellent performance.

Hawke plays Thomas Egan, an air force pilot who, after serving 6 tours in Afghanistan, is reassigned to pilot drones from a base in Las Vegas.  For 12 hours a day, Egan sits in a cramped room where he and three other pilots spend their time staring at video monitors and observing people going about their lives on the other side of the world.  Occasionally, a phone rings and they are given orders by a never seen CIA supervisor.  All Egan has to do is push a button and, in just ten seconds, he can blow up a stranger 7,000 miles away.

Of course, it’s not just the targets who get blown up.  Anyone unlucky enough to be standing nearby ends up getting blown up as well, which is something that Egan’s commanding officer (Bruce Greenwood) insists is a regretful but acceptable consequence of fighting the War of Terror.  Except, of course, nobody’s quite sure that they’re actually blowing up terrorists.  Instead, often times, it’s a matter of guesswork.  People are blown up because they could be terrorists, not because they definitely are.

While most of the members of Egan’s unit are unconcerned about the ethics or the legalities of drone warfare, Vera Suarez (Zoe Kravitz) is an exception.  She worries that they’re just creating more terrorists.  (And yet, interestingly enough, she still follows orders whenever she’s told to blow someone up.)  Egan is troubled by the implications of what he’s doing but, for the most part, he keeps his feelings to himself.

From the beginning, the tightly wound Egan struggles with the pressure of being a drone pilot.  After spending half of the day killing strangers who may or may not be terrorists, Egan finds it difficult to spend the rest of the day with his wife (January Jones) and his children.  Slowly but surely, cracks start to appear on Egan’s facade.  He starts drinking.  He drives recklessly.  He yells at his family.  He grows paranoid about the neighbors.  When a cop asks him how the War on Terror is going, Egan smirks and replies that it’s going as well as the War on Drugs…

Even though I agreed, for the most part, with everything that the film had to say, I still found it to be incredibly heavy-handed.  There is something to be said for subtlety and Good Kill is definitely not a subtle movie.  Rabidly anti-military audiences will enjoy having their own prejudices confirmed but, with everyone other than Egan and Vera being portrayed as being bloodthirsty and ignorant, you can be sure that this film won’t change any minds.  Politically, this a political film that’s not going to make a bit of difference.

At the same time, there is an interesting subtext running through the film.  During the 12 hours that Egan spends in that room, he essentially ceases to be a human being and becomes an extension of that drone.  Both literally and figuratively, he becomes a part of the war machine.  Just imagine if a director like David Cronenberg had handled this material.  Director Anrew Niccol briefly touches on the Cronenbergian aspects of the story but, in the end, he gets too bogged down in all of the speeches.

The problem with political films like Good Kill is that they often feel very artificial and that’s why you’re thankful for Ethan Hawke’s performance.  Hawke gives a performance of such raw power that he cuts through all of the polemical bullshit.  The film is nearly smothered under the director’s heavy hand but Hawke breathes it back to life.  Hawke’s performance brings much needed authenticity to Good Kill and, as a result, he elevates the entire film.

Quick Review: Mad Max – Fury Road (dir. by George Miller)


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When Mad Max: Fury Road was first announced, I was skeptical. We saw what happened when a director returns to a franchise they excelled at. Neither Ridley Scott’s Prometheus nor Lucas’ work on the Star Wars prequels were as amazing as the originals. Fury Road may be the exception to that rule, at least when compared to The Road Warrior and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. The visuals are bright and colorful, with chase sequences that left me smiling through it all. The 3D adds a nice touch, particularly in the chases (without giving too much away), the movie feels as if it was built for a 3D showing. I’m not sure how it comes across in a regular format.

Without looking at those films, Fury Road hits the ground running (almost literally) and continues to do so for most of the film. While the title of the film belongs to Tom Hardy’s character, Max takes something of a back seat to Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, who is the true heroine here. Max is the character that introduces the audience to the Wasteland, a world left barren after war and where Gas, Water & Blood are the richest commodities around. While I liked Hardy in this, I had the feeling that they could have put anyone in the role of Max and it wouldn’t have made much of a difference.
Furiosa is the one that carries the bulk of the story.

Fury Road’s plot is simple & thin, but given that it all takes place in a Wasteland made mostly of desert, it worked out okay for me. I wasnt expecting a whole lot on the story front, but was happily surprised with it. Imperator Furiosa is sent out with a crew for a Gas run, but decides to follow her own agenda, putting into motion the pursuit from the Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and one of gis up and comimg lackeys, Nux (Nicholas Hoult).

From a pacing standpoint, Fury Road shifts it’s gears often while managing to still keep the engine purring. Some of the chases are chaotic, with cars flipping through the air and wanton destruction all over the place. You even have cycles riding over dunes and speeding through salt flats. However, it never reaches a point where you can’t see what’s occurring. The film has just one moment that I thought was slower than it should be halfway in, but it also serves to set up the 2nd act. The movie is mostly one big truck chase, but it’s done incredibly well. If you’re looking for something incredibly deep, this might not be the film you’re looking for, though the movie does try it’s best to accommodate with the script.

Another standout is the music. I’m used to hearing Tom Holkenborg (a.k.a. Junkie XL) as the remix track maker for most of Hans Zimmer’s scores. With Fury Road, Holkenborg has a number of pulsing drum rhythms and guitar pieces that fuel the chases. While it may sound a little like his work on 300:Rise of an Empire, the music fits. Note that I if you’re looking to buy the score, there’s a deluxe version with extended tracks, perfect background music for motorcycle rides on your favorite highway.

Fury Road is rated R, though I’ll admit that it wasn’t as violent as I expected it to be. It can get bloody at times, but the film never becomes a gore fest or anything along those lines. As far as nudity is concerned, there are only two instances of this and both are related to the story. In my showing, we had full families, but there didn’t seem to be any kind of reaction (as far as I can tell).

So far, we’re on track for an interesting summer.

What a Lovely Day To Be Mad Max: Fury Road


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We have the first official trailer (not teaser which the others last year had been) for the upcoming vehicular masterpiece mayhem from the mind of George Miller. It’s been a couple of decades since Miller played in the post-apocalyptic world of one Max Rockatansky.

A special teaser trailer was released during last year’s Comic-Con in San Diego and it was universally-hailed as mind-blowing and melt-your-face in it’s awesomeness.

Today we get the first official trailer and, most likely, the only one since the film is nearing it’s release date. So, watch and try not to melt your face as you stare into the mayhem before you.

Mad Max: Fury Road is set for a May 15, 2015 release date.

Mad Max: Fury Road Official Teaser Trailer


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What a lovely day, indeed.

At this year’s Hall H over at Comc-Con this past summer a trailer was shown that figuratively blew off the roof at the convention. It was the trailer for all the upcoming films for 2015 and beyond that everyone ended up geeking up over. It wasn’t the sizzle reel for the upcoming Age of Ultron (though it seems that was a close second). It wasn’t the brief tease of Batman v. Superman (though from people I know who went the teaser went a long way in removing doubts about the film).

No, the film the trailer was all about was George Miller’s return to his post-apocalyptic world inhabited by one of the original badasses of the 1980’s: Max Rockatansky aka Mad Max.

Yes, we are going to have sandwiched between Avengers: Age of Ultron and Star Wars: The Force Awakens a new Mad Max film (4th in the series) with Tom Hardy in the title role. The title to this latest entry in the series will be Mad Max: Fury Road.

The Comic-Con teaser for Fury Road whetted the appetite and this latest teaser trailer released by Warner Brothers today will just feed the thirst for post-apocalyptic vehicle mayhem.

Mad Max: Fury Road will be set for a May 15, 2015 release.