Movie Review ~ The Divergent Series: Allegiant

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The Facts
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Synopsis: After the earth-shattering revelations of Insurgent, Tris must escape with Four beyond the wall that encircles Chicago to finally discover the shocking truth of what lies behind it.

Stars: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Octavia Spencer, Naomi Watts, Jeff Daniels, Ray Stevenson, Zoe Kravitz, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Maggie Q, Keiynan Lonsdale, Jonny Weston, Mekhi Phifer, Daniel Dae Kim, Nadia Hilker, Bill Skarsgård

Director: Robert Schwentke

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 121 minutes

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review:  When Divergent was released in 2014, the hope was that it would be Summit Entertainment’s answer to The Hunger Games gauntlet thrown down by Lionsgate, a rival studio.  It wasn’t.  Actually, Divergent was so airless that when its sequel (Insurgent) rolled out a year later I didn’t even bother to see it.  What’s the point of continuing on with a series if the audience doesn’t really care about characters played by actors that don’t seem to care themselves about anything more than their paychecks and the perks of an international press tour.

In preparing for Allegiant, I went back and re-watched Divergent to see if my original feelings held up.  Boy, did they ever.  I still find Divergent to be a major bore, peppered with blank performances, spotty special effects, and a plot so convolutedly serpentine that it winds up feeling like it’s being made up on the fly and not adapted from the first in a series of bestsellers by Veronica Roth.  I continue to have a major problem with the violence towards women, grimacing each time the film finds our heroine getting beaten about the head and face by a male peer.

Since I’m never one to skimp on my homework, I gave Insurgent an overdue spin and to my surprise found it more than marginally better than its predecessor.  It’s still hopelessly devoid of point and general interest but with a new director (Robert Schwentke) and better special effects, the overall feeling of the series as a whole was that it was finding its footing (though I don’t feel like a series should ever need to take an entire first chapter to work out the kinks).

So going into Allegiant I was ready to see it improve upon the previous entry.  With the same director returning along with its cast made up of representatives of young Hollywood supported by several Oscar nominated/winning veterans there was surely hope to be had.

Wrong.  So very wrong.

First off is that Allegiant continues the unfortunate trend of studios with dollar-signs in their eyes and opting to split the final installment into two movies.  It worked for Harry Potter, it kinda worked for Twilight, and it definitely worked for The Hunger Games…but Allegiant is not destined to be put into any marginally successfully category because it’s actually the worst entry yet.  Instead of besting Insurgent, it falls far behind Divergent thanks to uninspired performances, downright lousy special effects, and the cold hard truth that the whole series is not about anything.

If you haven’t seen Insurgent yet, you best stop reading now because it’s impossible to discuss this one without letting a few spoilers slide by.

Jeanine is dead.  And Kate Winslet must have been so happy she wasn’t contractually obligated (like Ashley Judd seems to be) to appear in installments after her character was shot down by Evelyn (Naomi Watts, The Impossible, acting like her life depended on it in a brunette wig).  The message received at the end of Insurgent suggests that outside the wall that surrounds Chicago is a population waiting for the divergents to appear.  With the faction system breaking down and naysayers unlawfully executed, it’s more important than ever to scale the massive wall and hope that what’s outside is better than what’s inside.

When her brother (Ansel Elgort, The Fault in Our Stars) is lined up to be next on the chopping block, Tris (Shailene Woodley, The Descendants) and Four (Theo James) escape with him and their friends (Zoe Kravitz, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Miles Teller, The Spectacular Now, and Maggie Q), literally walking up the wall through an electrified fence.  Before going over the wall, the screenwriters trim the escapees by one in a most unceremonious fashion…losing one of the more interesting characters is a bummer for us but good for them because they’re spared from what happens next.

Outside the wall is a wasteland, a fleshy red landscape irrigated by a red rain.  Why?  The film never says…probably because it just looks good and goes with the costume design. Salvation comes when the group is rescued and brought to what used to be Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, though it’s been redesigned to look like the first pass of architectural model by a grade school student with no eye for functionality.  Ruled by David (Jeff Daniels, The Martian, with sad eyes that tells us he can see his career fading) who’s focused on separating the “pure” from the “damaged”, a divide arises between Tris and her friends that will call into question their, um, allegiance.

To say more would be giving the wafer thin plot more time than it deserves.  It’s just a bridge between Insurgent and 2017’s Ascendant so really what’s the point of catching this one in the theaters?  It’s a waste of time and everyone onboard seems to know it.  Schwentke is coasting in his director’s chair…so much so that he decided to jump ship and not come back to finish the series.  The special effects look like they were from a computer game you’d play between commercial breaks of a new episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and the acting is absolutely dreadful.

Woodley has been someone I’ve kept an eye on for a while now but instead of getting more acclimated to her heroine role, she seems more uncomfortable than ever.  A solid dramatic actress she may be but an action star she’s not and never will be.  With her huge saucer eyes and dirty blond bob, she doesn’t even look the part.  James fares better as her love interest and brawn of the group, but the two have precious chemistry to suggest that we should care whether they wind up together or not.  Watts, Daniels, and Octavia Spencer (Fruitvale Station) feign attentiveness while Teller hams it up with one-liners that rarely drew much of a reaction from the nearly 500 audience members I saw this with.  And I can’t even go there with the dreadful extras that have been assembled.  All of them look like they’ve been recruited from a pep rally in a juvenile detention center.

As I was leaving the theater I was walking behind a major fan of the series that was shaking her head and exclaiming that the filmmakers totally ruined the series with this one…so you don’t just have to take my non-fan word for it that Allegiant is a lousy waste of space.

The Silver Bullet ~ Demolition

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Synopsis: A successful investment banker struggles after losing his wife in a tragic car crash.

Release Date: April 8, 2016

Review:  With his last two movies bringing two Oscar wins (Dallas Buyers Club) and two nominations (Wild), it’s no wonder that many A-List movie stars and studios are making director Jean-Marc Vallée a much sought-after commodity in Hollywood.  While he readies a starry television adaptation of popular novel Big Little Lies for HBO, his latest film is flying uncomfortably under the radar.  Starring Jake Gyllenhaal (Prisoners) and Naomi Watts (The Impossible), the little buzz being generated from Demolition isn’t a great sign.  And it’s too bad because Gyllenhaal makes for a fascinating anti-hero and he’s one of the best at approaching the haunted “come undone” character.  Releasing in April, the film could have positioned itself for the Oscar season but opted for an early release…another ominous sign.  No matter, the stars and the director are enough to get me inside the theater, we’ll wait and see if it’s built on less than solid ground.

The Silver Bullet ~ St. Vincent

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Synopsis: A young boy whose parents just divorced finds an unlikely friend and mentor in the misanthropic, bawdy, hedonistic, war veteran who lives next door.

Release Date: October 24, 2014

Thoughts: When are they going to stop trying to remake As Good as It Gets? Did they learn nothing from, oh, the title of that movie? Earlier this year we were subjected to the heinous And So It Goes and now comes St. Vincent which looks an awful lot like it’s going down the same road. Admittedly, the grumpy old man shtick of Bill Murray (The Monuments Men, Hyde Park on Hudson) has worn thin on me so I’m not maybe not the most unbiased at first glance…but if his performance is a good as I’ve heard it is I’m willing to let him get one more in before busting him on it forever more. I’m also pretty gun-shy where Melissa McCarthy is concerned after being burned by The Heat and set ablaze by the agony that was Tammy. First time director Theodore Melfi brings his own script to the screen and it must be pretty darn good for Murray to have taken part in it. Final verdict is always reserved for later…but my devil horns are already on for St. Vincent.

 

The Silver Bullet ~ Diana

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Synopsis: The last two years of Princess Diana’s life: her campaign against land mines and her relationship with surgeon Dr Hasnat Khan.

Release Date:  TBA 2013

Thoughts: The world’s fascination with all things Royal continues with a look at the life of the people’s princess in a biography that feels several years too late to the game.  Releasing in time for prime award season, Diana will be up against another film about a princess who died before her time when Nicole Kidman (who happens to be Watts’ best friend and fellow Australian) takes on Grace of Monaco.  Although admittedly hard to tell from this teaser trailer, Watts just doesn’t say “Diana” to me and it’s not just because Watts only resembles the late Princess of Wales if you squint.  There was such a mysterious air to the real life royal that I’m not sure could ever really be captured.  Final judgment of course must be reserved when more footage is released but so far…I’m not convinced.

Movie Review ~ The Impossible

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The Facts:

Synopsis: An account of a family caught, with tens of thousands of strangers, in the mayhem of one of the worst natural catastrophes of our time.

Stars: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, Oaklee Pendergast

Director: J.A. Bayona

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 114 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:   It took me a while, but about an hour into The Impossible I finally figured out what was bugging me so much about it.  Going in I had read various critics call out the film for telling the story of an affluent white family that are impacted 2004 tsunami in Thailand that had a final death toll close to 300,000.  Though the story is true, it is curious that the filmmakers focused on tourists staying at a deluxe coastal resort who seemingly only have to worry about if they will continue to live in Japan or go back to England after their Christmas holiday. 

I was prepared to have that gnaw at me and it did…a bit.  What frustrated me more than that was a conspicuous lack of any real minority presence that wasn’t reduced to a patronizing savior role introduced to help the in-need family be reunited and on the first plane back to Singapore.  In truth, the film appears so white-washed, I would have thought it was a Nancy Meyers directed film.  Seriously, go back and watch The Holiday, It’s Complicated, and Something’s Gotta Give and let me know if you see any minority character with a substantial speaking role.

These two drawbacks are unfortunate because The Impossible is not a bad film, per se.  It’s well made, buoyed by a gripping pace and committed performances that aide in creating some respectable moments.  Director Bayona was at the helm for the classy and creepy Spanish film The Orphanage and he brings the same emotional undercurrent to The ImpossibleThe Orphanage was billed as a horror thriller but what is really was was a suspense drama delivered with a firm grip.  Bayona doesn’t let The Impossible get away from him either, skillfully navigating a Reader’s Digest Drama in Real Life situation to a moving tale of survival against the odds.

Watts and McGregor may not have enough screen time together to create the kind of chemistry that would have given their struggles a little extra oomph, but luckily they share the screen with some talented kids that go through the wringer with them.  While Watts received an Oscar nomination for her work, it’s McGregor who should have received the praise.  Watts is solid, no doubt, but she’s absent for long stretches of the film…so much so that I forgot about her storyline several times.  Holland is their oldest boy and though the other two tots are uncommonly strong actors it’s Holland that steals the show out from under them all.  Geraldine Chaplin also shows up for a brief but powerful cameo that showcases screenwriter Sergio G. Sanchez’s way with words.

I find it hard to outright recommend The Impossible based on some of the hang-ups I had with it outlined above.  There are at least 300,000 ways the story could have been told and I’m sure sometime in the future maybe a film will be crafted that focuses on the people that called this place home and were left to pick up the pieces after the tsunami raged through.  As for the family at the center of The Impossible…I wonder if they ever did decide on England or Japan.

2013 Oscar Nominations – Predictions

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Forget Thanksgiving and Christmas, we are now officially in my favorite holiday season…Awards Season.  This Sunday are the Golden Globe Awards and you can click HERE for a full listing of nominees.   I enjoy the Golden Globes for what they are…the slightly tipsy foreign exchange student to the Oscars.  A few weeks later on January 27th the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards are given out and these are enjoyable because they are only given for performance categories and are voted on by the true peers of the nominees/winners.  That’s true somewhat for the Oscars but there’s something about the SAG Awards that make them feel like a valued win and not a popularity contest.  The day before the Oscars are the Spirit Awards given out to independent films from the past year.  If you’ve never watched these awards I highly encourage it…they are very much like the films they celebrate…independent and rough around the edges.

All of these are merely appetizers for the Academy Awards which will be given out on February 24, 2013.  Sure to be a lavish affair (even if they are being hosted by the mostly funny but ego-centric Seth McFarlane, Ted), I’ve yet to miss an Academy Awards telecast or the live announcement of the official nominees.

Before the nominations are announced at 7:38 am tomorrow morning, let me go out on a limb and give my predictions as to what is going to be up for major awards and who is going to wake up an Oscar nominee.

Best Picture

Ever since the field was changed from 5 nominees to a possible 10, this one is always hard to predict…so let me start with five nominees and then go up from there….

Lincoln
Zero Dark Thirty
Argo
Les
Misérables
Silver Linings Playbook

Life of Pi

Moonrise Kingdom

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Django Unchained

Amour

Close Calls – While The Master was a huge buzz film before it was released, its actual reception was so chilly I’m not sure it will earn a place on the list. 

If there’s any justice… Skyfall will be the first James Bond film to be nominated for Best Picture.  One of the best films of the year and most definitely the best Bond film ever produced, this was a full serving of entertainment with more to it than just cool cars and spy adventures.

Best Director

Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
Ben Affleck, Argo
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Tom Hooper, Les Misérables

Close Calls – With The Life of Pi sitting just outside the top five Best Picture nominees, director Ang Lee may have a tough time locking down a nomination.

If there’s any justice… Actually, this list is pretty complete.

Best Actor

Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Denzel Washington, Flight
John Hawkes, The Sessions
Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook

Close Calls – Again, The Master is popping up as a close call…but potential Best Actor nominee Joaquin Phoenix is such a puzzle in and of himself, he may have hurt his chances at a nomination by starring in an equally puzzling film.

If there’s any justice… Poor Richard Gere…he just can’t catch a break.  Though he could possibly unseat Jackman, his work in Arbitage probably will go un-nominated.

Best Actress

Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Marion Cotillard, Rust and Bone
Naomi Watts, The Impossible
Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Close Calls – Helen Mirren is also being mentioned in this category…and while she was wonderful in Hitchcock the film itself wasn’t well liked.  I think there are enough women who did great work in better films that should wind up with a nomination.

If there’s any justice… PLEASE let Quvenzhane Wallis be nominated!  If anyone should go from this list it’s Watts…I’ve heard her film is strong as is her performance but let’s have the youngest ever nominee (Wallis) up against the oldest ever nominee (Emmanuelle Riva, Amour)

Best Supporting Actor

Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Alan Arkin, Argo
Javier Bardem, Skyfall

Close Calls – Leonardo DiCaprio may miss the boat on this, his work in Django Unchained was better than his last five films but he’s in good company with his co-stars Christoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson…both of whom could wind up here.  Bardem might be the one to miss the mark if DiCaprio love fills the hearts of voters…but I wouldn’t count out Bardem’s recent surge of support.

If there’s any justice… Tom Cruise would get some love for putting it all out there in Rock of Ages.  Yes, the film was a total mess but his performance is still one of the most memorable (in a good way) for me at the end of the year.  It’s never going to happen but I had to go on record saying he deserves it.

Best Supporting Actress

Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Sally Field, Lincoln
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Amy Adams, The Master
Maggie Smith, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Close Calls – I haven’t seen The Paperboy but boy is Nicole Kidman getting surprising recognition for her steamy work.  Though it came and went pretty fast, Kidman may just pop up here, replacing Adams or Smith.

If there’s any justice… the Supporting categories are always where Oscar tends to throw a few nice curveballs so here’s hoping that Brit Kelly Reilly scores her first nomination for her haunting work alongside Denzel Washington in Flight.  Director Robert Zemeckis could have cast any Hollywood female for the role but he made a killer choice by going with Reilly.

The Silver Bullet ~ Movie 43

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Synopsis: An ensemble comedy intertwining different tales.

Release Date:  January 25, 2013

Thoughts: Here’s a film I’ve been hearing about for a while now thanks to a word of mouth publicity campaign.  Though it reminds me a lot of the uneven semi-classic Kentucky Fried Movie, this particular entry sold me on the cast list alone.  You have Oscar nominated/winning females (Naomi Watts, Uma Thurman, Kate Winslet, Halle Berry) side by side with men that run the gamut from A-List (Hugh Jackman, Richard Gere) to has beens (sorry fellow MN Seann William Scott).  Many famous faces/names also wrote and directed the shorts so here’s hoping that the good stuff is great and the bad stuff is short.  I’ve laughed at this trailer (and its Not Safe For Work red band trailer here) and do anticipate liking this when it’s released later in January.