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.
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.
A very satisfying film. Edward Norton (Moonrise Kingdom) is very good, Jessica Biel (Total Recall) is beautiful (as in very attractive), and Paul Giamatti (San Andreas) proves again that he may well be the best actor of our generation. The real genius is that this movie tells a story that has been told hundred times, but does so in such an interesting way that you don’t feel cheated or bored by seeing the same story again. First, the movie is set in Vienna at the turn of the century. Basically, an uptown girl is not allowed to be with a downtown boy. The girl’s family disapproves. They are forcibly separated. The boy disappears for many years and eventually returns in search of his lost love. Of course, the girl is now attached to the evil prince whom the boy must now defeat (not because the girl loves the evil prince, but because the evil prince is mean and nasty). The hook is that the boy meets an illusionist and, fascinated by the magic, learns the illusionist’s craft and uses it to get close to the girl and wow the crowds in Vienna when he returns for his lost love. I won’t give away any more of the plot, but I will say the “how did he that part” is the best part of the movie. The real genius is that with all of the computer graphics and imaging that are used in movies these days, I was still left guessing how the illusionist did the things he did. I give it an “A.”
The Illusionist (B+). We’ve already posted a couple of reviews for this movie, so I’ll try to be brief. The readiest comparison is Wuthering Heights. Edward Norton (Moonrise Kingdom) is Eisenheim the Illusionist, a sensational magician who takes Vienna by storm around the turn of the 20th century. By a quick flashback, we see that he was from a peasant family, and that in his youth he was in love with a girl from the aristocracy named Sophie. Their different social stations doomed their romance, and the lad disappeared for 15 years. Returning to Vienna as Eisenheim, he finds that Sophie (played surprisingly well by Jessica Biel, Total Recall) is romantically involved with none other than the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Eisenheim and Sophie quickly discover that their love is as strong as ever, but the emperor-in-waiting (Rufus Sewell, Hercules) is a suspicious and violent sort, and the conflict caused by love across class-lines is set up nicely. Paul Giamatti (Morgan) does a good job as the cynical but decent police inspector who tries to figure out what Eisenheim is up to and to persuade him not to incur the imperial wrath.
The Wedding Date (D+). Someday soon I am going to write a column listing good romantic comedies and bad ones; the second list will be much longer, and it will have The Wedding Date on it. This is a frequently vulgar and infrequently amusing rom-com about Kat (Debra Messing, The Women), a woman who hires a male escort to take her to her sister Amy’s wedding in England because Kat’s ex-fiance is going to be there and she can’t bear to go alone. Dermot Mulroney (Stoker) is Nick, the escort, and he is about what you would expect from a male escort: handsome, fit, suave, and deft on the dance floor, not to mention a virtual philosopher on the subject of love. You can guess the rest. Anyway, there are plenty of tawdry goings-on, there is virtually no character development, and most of the characters on display are highly unlikable for lack of either integrity or intelligence. Debra Messing is not my cup of tea, but she is surprisingly attractive during much of the movie, which explains the bonus “+”.
In the turn-of-the-century Austrian countryside, a young peasant boy named Eisenheim wins the heart of Sophie, a young woman of royal lineage, with his unrefined, yet mesmerizing magical skills. However, he lacks the ability to overcome the social boundary between the two of them, and ultimately her royal family forbids the couple to see each other again. Fifteen years later they reunite when Eisenheim (Ed Norton – Primal Fear, Rounders, The Italian Job) returns to Vienna as a famous magician, Eisenheim the Illusionist. Eisenheim is surprised to find out that Sophie (Jessica Biel – TV’s 7th Heaven) is engaged to Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell – Tristan + Isolde), but it is not long before Eisenheim and Sophie rekindle their prior love affair. Despite the warnings of the well-intentioned, yet duty-bound Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti – Sideways, Lady in the Water) to steer clear of Sophie, Eisenheim refuses and subtly utilizes his magical powers to undermine the Crown Prince’s power in an attempt to lure Sophie away from him. The remainder of the movie details the escalation of the tension and competition among Eisenheim and Leopold, putting Sophie and Chief Inspector Uhl in the middle – with (of course ) some magic tricks mixed in.
Despite some unquestionably interesting magic tricks and another compelling performance by Norton (who happens to be one of my favorite actors), and a strong performance by Giamatti, the movie fails to deliver any real “magic”. The characters and the plot both seemed borrowed from a variety of other movies and sources, and I felt myself saying “this seems familiar” way too often. In fact the movie’s biggest plot line has been overused way too often to be compelling (the “peasant boy falls in love with woman of royalty making those in the royal ranks non-too-happy” theme is less than original – they even used that one in Pirates of the Caribbean). But, it wasn’t until the end of the movie that I recognized the movie’s biggest theft – straight out of one of Shakespeare’s most memorable plays (albeit with a different ending). I left the movie with a ho-hum feeling and kept thinking that maybe the best trick the movie pulled off was making the $8 disappear from my wallet. Overall, I give it a B- (which on my “Golfing Guru” scale amounts to a “three-putt bogey”).