Divergent – a second opinion

A second opinion from The Movie Snob.

Divergent  (D).  It seems to me that the young-heroine-opposes-hideous-dystopia genre is getting stale in a hurry.  (For The Borg Queen’s recent review of this film, with complete plot summary, click here.)  In my humble opinion, this film is too long (2 hours, 19 minutes), the action sequences are too lame, and the arbitrary rules governing this particular futureworld are just too goofy to go along with.  Shailene Woodley, who I thought was very good in The Descendants and perfectly adequate in The Spectacular Now, doesn’t distinguish herself in the leading role of Katniss, er, I mean Tris, future leader of the rebellion.  (Interestingly, the film also features Miles Teller, who played Woodley’s boyfriend in The Spectacular Now, and Ansel Elgort (Carrie), who will play her boyfriend in the upcoming The Fault In Our Stars.)  Kate Winslet (Titanic) channels her inner Jodie Foster (Elysium) as the head baddie.  Anyhow, almost the entire movie is consumed with Tris’s training as she becomes a member of the Dauntless faction.  It’s just not that interesting.  Skip it.

Divergent

The Borg Queen fires all phasers at a new release.

Divergent – C+

This movie failed to turn me into a fan of the latest young-adult-book-turned-to-movie craze.  It is yet another teen romance in the context of a post-apocalyptic Earth.  Rather than being divided into 12 (or 13) “districts,” though, the people are divided into 5 “factions” and live within the crumbles of what used to be Chicago (partially rebuilt and partially left in ruin) surrounded by a mysterious large fence.  When the teens reach a certain age, they undergo some kind of testing that is supposed to tell them what “faction” they are predisposed to (selflessness, peacefulness, honesty, bravery, intelligence), and then the next day they have to choose which faction to live in, and cut ties with their family if they are in a different faction.  The purpose of this segregation is supposedly to put people in their “place” in order to prevent another uprising.  The story focuses upon Tris (Shailene Woodley, The Spectacular Now), born in the Abnegation faction.  The Abnegation (selfless) faction apparently is the faction that governs all 5 factions, and Tris’s father is one of the leaders.  When Tris undergoes the testing, it reveals that she is “divergent,” meaning she doesn’t fit squarely within any one particular faction – something that supposedly would make her difficult to “control” and a threat to their “everyone knows their place” society.  So, she must lie about her test results to keep her “divergent” result a secret.  On choosing day, Tris breaks away from her family and chooses a different faction, Dauntless (brave), which provides the “police” of the society.  There, she encounters Four (Theo James, Underworld: Awakening), who is responsible for training the new members/recruits . . . and the typical teen romance develops with Tris.  Kate Winslet (Little Children) plays Jeanine, the leader of the Erudite (intelligent) faction, which tries to overthrow the Abnegation faction.  Overall, the acting in this movie was great, the special effects were great, and the story kept my interest.  But at the same time, the story didn’t make any sense to me.  Dividing people into the 5 factions based on personality traits (as they exist in mid-adolescence) that all people would seem to possess without a significant amount of variance made no sense to me.  And they didn’t explain, at least not well, why Erudite wanted to overthrow Abnegation – especially when Jeanine is portrayed as someone who highly values a lack of uprising, yet is initiating an uprising herself.  This is probably a movie you might enjoy more if you have read the books and already know the story.  I left the movie feeling confused and disappointed.

The Reader

A movie review from Movie Man Mike

The Reader (B).

*** Caution *** may contain spoilers ***

What is it about Holocaust movies that make them so successful? In recent years, we’ve seen a spate of movies about this subject. The Reader is a nice addition to the genre, although the story itself left me wondering quite a bit about the characters’ motivations. The story takes place primarily in two time periods, both after the fall of Nazi Germany. Hanna Schmitz, played by Kate Winslet (Divergent), is working as a ticket taker on a cable car. She meets then 15-year-old Michael Berg. They have an affair, fall in love, and after 3 months, she abruptly leaves him. Now jump ahead a few years when Berg is now in law school taking a special lecture class. The class attends the trial of several Nazi death camp workers, one of whom turns out to be Hanna Schmitz. Berg has information that may help her case, but he is conflicted when he learns of the atrocities she has committed. I could not fully comprehend from watching the movie why he reacts the way he does, but what I also had trouble comprehending was when we see the adult Berg, played by Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel), we see that Berg’s experiences with Schmitz apparently so deeply affected him that he appeared to have obsessed on her for most of his adult life. Why? And we are left wondering throughout about Schmitz’s upbringing and why she took many of the actions she did take, including her final actions. I don’t want to spoil too much of this story for movie-goers because it’s well worth seeing for the wonderful acting and compelling story-line, but I was left with quite a few questions when it was over and I felt a little unfulfilled.

The Reader

A new review from The Movie Snob

The Reader (B+). This movie kind of shook me up; it definitely held my attention from beginning to end. Although I had heard a fair amount about the plot before it saw it, I will endeavor not to commit any spoilers in my review, other than to say that the Holocaust is involved. The “present” is 1995, and in that time frame Ralph Fiennes (The Constant Gardener) plays the main character, an emotionally constricted German lawyer named Michael Berg. But most of the movie is told in flashback. The first flashback is to 1958, when Michael is a fresh-faced 16-year-old lad who gets involved in a torrid affair with Hannah Schmitz, a much older woman played by Kate Winslet (Titanic). Although the affair is brief, Michael is deeply affected. Years later, when he is a law student, Michael’s path crosses Hannah’s again. That’s about all I can say without risking what might be considered spoilers. I’ll just add that as the movie unfolds, I was startled and confused by some of the things the characters did; they seemed to act far differently than I would have. But I’ve read a few other reviews that had theories about their motivations that sort of make sense to me. I don’t think this movie is really best-picture caliber, but it was undeniably absorbing.

The Holiday

DVD review from The Movie Snob

The Holiday (B). In my opinion, romantic comedy is very difficult to pull off, so The Holiday‘s “B” is a very good grade coming from me. Cameron Diaz (The Other Woman) plays Amanda, a hard-charging entrepreneur living in L.A. who is so emotionally repressed that she hasn’t cried since she was 15. Kate Winslet (All the King’s Men) is Iris, a British newspaper writer who is emotionally destroyed when the man she loves gets engaged to another woman. On the spur of the moment, the two find each other through a home-exchange website and decide to swap houses for the Christmas holiday. Diaz meets Graham (Jude Law, Sherlock Holmes); Winslet meets Miles (Jack Black, Bernie). Romantic-comedy hijinks ensue. I would pick some nits — at 2 hours and 18 minutes, it is way too long, and there are some draggy scenes that should have been trimmed. Although I believe that Jack Black is one of the comedic geniuses of our time, he is a fish out of water in this picture. Still, on the whole, I quite enjoyed it.

All the King’s Men

Movie review from The Movie Snob

All the King’s Men (C). Although this movie is based on my very favorite novel, I steered clear based on the drubbing it took from the critics (and at the box office). But my cousin just read the book and cajoled me into seeing the film at the dollar theater. Thanks to my very low expectations (and the low price), I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, but it still wasn’t very good. The story is a fictionalized account of the rise and fall of Louisiana demogogue Huey Long as seen through the eyes of one of his cronies, a disaffected journalist from a genteel background named Jack Burden. There were some casting errors; Jude Law (Genius) is too good-looking to play Jack, Kate Winslet (Finding Neverland) is all wrong as Jack’s childhood sweetheart Anne Stanton, and Patricia Clarkson (Cairo Time) is likewise wrong as political operative Sadie Burke. Sean Penn (The Interpreter) is not too bad as the Huey Long character, Willie Stark, but for some reason he delivers his political speeches as though he suffers from some serious neurological impairment, bobbing and ducking and weaving seemingly uncontrollably. Director Steven Zaillian (A Civil Action) tried to cram way too much of the book into the movie, so the action moves forward in a very jumpy fashion, leaving key events and motivations underexplained. Still, if you know the book well, you will be able to follow the movie easily and may even get some enjoyment out of it. Low expectations will also help.

Flushed Away

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

Flushed Away (B-). My mom and I just saw this new animated feature, which I believe is from the same people who make the Wallace and Gromit movies. Roddy St. James (voice of Hugh Jackman, Australia) is a pet mouse who lives a life of luxury in Kensington, London. Poor Roddy unexpectedly finds himself flushed into the London sewer system, where mice have built their own little miniature civilization. He enlists the aid of a ship captain named Rita (voice of Kate Winslet, The Reader) to help him get home. Meanwhile, the sinister Mr. Toad (voice of Bill Nighy, Love Actually) has a plan to get rid of all the mice and rats in the sewer system for good. There are plenty of narrow escapes and daring rescues, and the visuals are great, but the movie as a whole is only slightly above average. The omnipresent slugs who provide a musical chorus/commentary on the action are a highlight.