Divergent Full Review

Get used to the teenage book turned movie genre. It isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, I saw two trailers for best seller adaptations when I went to see this movie. I honestly don’t mind this trend. What I do mind, is making movies that are worth seeing. Some of these book to films series’ have lived up to the hype (Harry Potter, The Hunger Games). Some have crashed and burned (The Host, Eragon, The Golden Compass). And some managed to profit and earn a following, but are still universally heralded as terrible (Twilight, Percy Jackson). The question is: Which group does Divergent fall under?

ImageFirst off, I’ll admit that based on reading the back of the book and watching the trailers, nothing about the plot seemed to intrigue me. Another post-apocalyptic, broken world with a teenager capable of saving it sounds too much like a Hunger Games rip-off.  In Divergent, that post-war world is set in Chicago where, to maintain peace, society separates itself into five factions based on personality (Kind of like Harry Potter and the sorting hat… but I digress). There’s the brainy people who want to run the government, the selfless people who actually run the government, two other factions that don’t matter, and the brave warrior faction that make up the police (i.e. the cool kids). Those who don’t fit into any of these or who fit into all of them, are known as divergent and are a threat to the system. Why and how divergents are rare, is beyond me. Apparently in post-apocalyptic society most people only have one personality trait.

Anywho… the story centers on Beatrice (Shailene Woodley), daughter to a family in the selfless faction. After her test deems her divergent, “Trice” has no choice but to keep it a secret. She then goes with her gut and chooses the brave/police faction, a group of people who seemed hell bent on near death thrill seeking just because. Most of the movie involves her training in this rough and tumble world by Four (Theo James), a strong and noble member of the faction who she, of course, has a crush on. The overarching conflict in the movie involves the government power struggle between Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslett doing her best to be a passive aggressive bitch) and Beatrice’s noble and selfless politician parents (Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn).

I could spend an hour poking holes in the plot, but the same could be said for The Hunger Games series that I’m quite fond of. The bottom line is that I had a good time watching the movie and I can see why many teens have gravitated toward the books.  I do not have the same sentiments for the Twilight “saga”. And as far as leading ladies go, Shailene Woodley isn’t half bad. She is no Jen Lawrence, but she is far from being a Kristen Stewart. She holds her own in the dramatic scenes and her transition from fish out of water to resident bad ass is believable enough. The only real faults of the film are its horrendous soundtrack, which seems straight out of an ABC Family drama, and its enigmatic and slightly abrupt ending. But considering how bad the movie could’ve been, and how bad I thought it would be, I can honestly say I was pleasantly surprised.

FINAL GRADE: B

Fast and the Furious 6.5 (Need For Speed Review)

First, you should know that I don’t like any of the Fast and Furious movies. Not a single one. I think they’re all terrible. Some of them are flat out unwatchable. I recognize that I’m in the minority here… so I I’ll try not to spend this entire review making the obvious comparisons. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s review video game turned action film, Need For Speed.

ImageThe film begins in a small town in upstate New York. The main character, Toby Marshall (Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad in his first major film lead) runs a garage while street racing by night. Surprise surprise. He, of course, has a plucky crew of mechanics. The lone highlight of his crew is Scott Mescudi  (better known as rapper Kid Cudi) as a pilot named Maverick. The character himself is very similar to Tyrese Gibson’s character in… oh wait, I said I wouldn’t do that. But it’s his job as overseer that adds color to the film. His flying above nearly every racing scene while adding commentary and insight gives the movie a welcomed unique feel, much like the video games.

The real story is set in motion when Toby Marshall strikes a deal with former Indy Car racer/rival Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) to refurbish a brand new mustang. After the superior racer, Marshall, shows him up while selling the car, the two embark on a meaningless street race that for some reason involves Marshall’s friend (and Dino’s brother in law) Little Pete. And of course, the race results in Pete’s death and Toby taking the blame. This is no spoiler… if you don’t think Pete’s going to die as soon as he steps on screen, then you don’t watch enough movies. Anywho… after Marshall is released from prison he sets out in the silver mustang with beautiful car dealer Julia (Imogen Poots) on a quest to join in a revenge race sponsored by an eccentric, rich, street racing enthusiast (Michael Keaton).

Very few things about the film will surprise you. Especially if you are a fan of that other series. But the car scenes are fun enough. Marshall as a leading actor leaves a lot to be desired. Most of the movie it seems like he is trying to do his best Jason Statham impression. Nevertheless, this movie (just like the Fast series) doesn’t intend to win any Oscars. It only intends to entertain while doing it’s best not to be something you’ve already seen before. And honestly, sometimes it’s unique and sometimes I have to rub my eyes to make sure I didn’t just see Vin Diesel.

FINAL GRADE: C+ 

300: Rise of a slightly unneccessary sequel

I am the president of the “Every good movie does not need a sequel” fan club. So if there was anyone who was indifferent about the idea of a sequel, it was me. Still, if I can give Pompeii 3D a chance (I shouldn’t have) then I can most certainly make an attempt to delve back into the over-dramatized, ultra masculine world of ancient Greece once again.

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As with most, my first gripe with this film was the sheer idea of it. 2007’s 300 (which launched both Zack Snyder and Gerard Butler’s careers into stardom), is a visual masterpiece and the first of its kind. Many have attempted to replicate it (*Cough* Pompeii) but none have managed to come close. Through its poetic aesthetics and powerfully iconic one-liners, the original managed to capture the ‘few vs. many’ story arc with perfection.

So why tamper with it again? Doesn’t a sequel somewhat undermine the plot of the first? Isn’t what happens after King Leonidas’ death in the Battle of Thermopylae a bit obvious? Snyder, who serves as writer and producer this time around, manages to answer these questions better than you’d think. For one, 300: Rise of An Empire is not just a sequel. It’s actually a sequel, prequel, and inbetweequel. In other words, the film not only continues the Greek city states war against God-King Xerxes, but also explains how the battle began in the first place.

But most of the film takes place during the actual events of 300, with the vast majority of the original cast making a cameo. Only Spartan Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) has her role expanded upon. New director Noam Murro does a serviceable job navigating his way through the interweaving stories. The bulk of the film focuses on a dramatized depiction of the concurring Battle of Salamis. Here, King Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) and his army of Athenians battles Xerxes’ head naval commander Artemisia (Eva Green).

You will likely be happy to know that the fight scenes are as equally visually vibrant and violent as they were in the first film. However, the characters mostly seem like watered down retreads. Themistocles is smart and skilled, but he isn’t remotely as cool as Leonidas even though he tries to be.  His comrades, including a father and son, might as well be the same actors who followed Leonidas into the hot gates. The bright spot is Eva Green’s Artemisia who provides an unpredictable, yet worthy adversary to the Greeks. Her performance isn’t groundbreaking, but it is a nice change-up from what we saw in 300.

Rise of An Empire won’t make you stand and cheer. It doesn’t even remotely live up to its predecessor either. But it will provide solid entertainment, especially the invigorating final act. Is that enough to warrant seeing before Red Box? Meh… you can be the judge.

FINAL GRADE: B-  

Quick Reviews (From Cate Blanchett’s Oscar to Taken 3)

There are so many movies coming out that I can’t seem to find time to write full reviews fast enough. But here are a few quick thoughts on some recent films to hit theaters.

 

Blue Jasmine

ImageWoody Allen’s films, while entertaining, often have vague endings and even vaguer messages. Jasmine is no different. Cate Blanchett does an exquisite job in her portrayal as the titular character, a socialite trying to rebuild her life after her shady businessman husband is arrested by the FBI. Whether her performance is worthy of the Academy Award she received is debatable (I personally thought Merryl Streep deserved another victory), but it is certainly good enough to carry an otherwise scatter brained narrative. FINAL GRADE: B

 

The Monuments Men

ImageWorld War II films (or any war film for that matter) always carry a sense of nostalgia about them. This film directed by and starring George Clooney, manages to capture that with perfection. Where this intriguing true story about men recruited to prevent Hitler from stealing art from invaded countries, falters is in its tone. Its solid cast floats between serious and quirky and often undermines what is actually a serious and humbly noble story. Is it enough to derail the film? No. But it is enough to prevent what seemed like an Oscar-worthy set up from becoming as such. FINAL GRADE: B

 

Pompeii

ImageThe source material, about the real life ancient Italian city destroyed by a volcano, lends itself to at least a decent swords and sandals epic. But maybe the wrong people got a hold of the source material. This movie is laughably sloppy from its cast (why is Jack Bauer from 24 playing a corrupt Roman politician?) to its dialogue, to its melodramatic love story. It thinks it’s 300 meets Gladiator with a dash of Titanic, but it possesses none of the actual qualities that made those films classics. I suppose its saving grace would be the action sequences. But you’re better off just watching an episode of Game of Thrones than sitting through this mess. FINAL GRADE: D

 

Non-Stop

ImageLiam Neeson has perfected the grizzly action hero. But don’t be fooled into thinking that Non Stop is another Taken. Believe it or not, it is actually much more cerebral than Taken or Taken 2 while still being more suspenseful and action packed than Neeson’s divisive film The Grey. Not to say that it is a classic piece of noir filmmaking. That is by no means the case. In fact, many of the sequences are more preposterous than the McGuyver-esque stunts Neeson made believable in the Taken films. But, this movie about an Air Marshall attempting to find and stop a mystery terrorist aboard his plane, is a top notch thriller that gives just enough twists and turns to keep you on the edge of your seat. FINAL GRADE: B+

2014 Oscar Movie Reviews

The 2014 Oscars are upon us. Didn’t get a chance to see some of the films nominated this year? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. Just click the link to read a review!

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American Hustle

August: Osage County

Captain Phillips

Frozen

The Grandmaster

Gravity

Her

The Hobbit

12 Years A Slave

The Wolf of Wall Street

Enjoy tonight’s show everyone!