Insurgent

1insurgent

DIR: Robert Schwentke • WRI: Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman, Mark Bomback •  PRO: Lucy Fisher, Pouya Shahbazian • DOP: Florian Ballhaus • ED: Stuart Levy, Nancy Richardson • MUS: Joseph Trapanese • DES: Alec Hammond • CAST: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Theo James, Naomi Watts

 

In an industry where practiced weariness at pop culture clichés has become a cliché in its own right, it can be hard to know how to approach franchise fodder. Hollywood chews up a thousand interesting ideas for every one it spits out, but occasionally something self-aware speckles our chin and we can wipe our collective faces and be glad. So it was armed with awkward metaphors and an open mind that I sat down to review Insurgent, the second entry in a series that was rapidly dubbed an Aldi-brand Hunger Games the moment it slipped off the YA assembly line.

Certainly, it shares many of the hallmarks; we follow Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley), a tween saddled with survivor’s guilt after her daring escape from a future dystopian Chicago costs the lives of her mother, father, and many of her friends. Tris is Divergent, genetically predisposed not to easily fit into any one of the five factions on which the security of this future society rests, and thus a threat to the entire system. So far, so bleh.

Where the film gets truly interesting, however, is in its own reflection of an admittedly simplistic core concept. As the heroes fend off an attack on board a moving train early on, Tris is left dangling inches above the rails as her brother Caleb watches on. An erstwhile member of the most cerebral and ruthless of the factions, Caleb has already expressed misgivings about their rebellion, reasoning that while the faction system is certainly oppressive, it also provides stability in a post-war society – which the very existence of his sister threatens. For the brief moment in which his face becomes cold and impassive as his sister fights to survive, I thought I might be watching a very different kind of film indeed.

But alas, Insurgent is not 30 minutes long but 119, and the hour and half to follow only compounds the overriding flaw that prevents it from being anything other than a reasonably-priced anaesthetic for the arse – namely the inability to allow well-acted, interesting archetypes to aspire to any more shading than your average stick figure.

Strung together by SFX-ridden set pieces, the rest of the plot sees Tris and co. flee Kate Winslet’s Aryan librarian (libr-Aryan?) antagonist to meet up with the obligatory black-clad insurgents, led by a severely-underutilised Naomi Watts. The cast manage to wrangle as much as possible from the material, Woodley in particular bringing some raw nerves to an otherwise blank slate, but it is ultimately not enough to rise above the film’s many flaws – weird science and henchman myopia but minor among them.

The very cause that our heroes fight for – the idea that we are all born equal, despite how society might try to divide us – is regularly undermined by conflicts resolved only because Tris is superior – genetically so- and it’s a core contradiction that ultimately defines the entire film. With a plot so deeply focused on the idea of breaking free from constraints placed upon us by time-honoured tradition, Insurgent’s overriding inclination is to play it safe.

 

Ruairí Moore

12A (See IFCO for details)
118 minutes

Insurgent is released 20th March 2015

Insurgent – Official Website

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The Fault in Our Stars

fault in our stars

DIR:  Josh Boone • WRI: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber • PRO: Wyck Godfrey, Marty Bowen • DOP: Ben Richardson • ED: Robb Sullivan • CAST: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff, Laura Dern, Sam Trammell, Willem Dafoe

Based on the best-selling book by John Green, this teenage drama/romance has been as highly anticipated – especially by teenage girls – as, well, any instalment of  The Hunger Games or the recent Insurgent, and it’s probably no coincidence that Woodley stars in that second film as well as this one.

She plays Hazel, a teenager on the cusp of being an adult and suffering from a cancer that affects her lungs, and can make going upstairs an exhausting effort. She constantly carries an oxygen tank behind her, and a tube leads from it across her face and to her nostrils.

Nevertheless she’s a “miracle,” a cancer trial seeming to have done the trick for her (for now at least) and so she attends an awkward Jesus-centred cancer survivors group for other teens, and it’s there that she meets handsome Gus (Ansel Elgort), who lost a leg to his cancer, but is in remission.

He’s there in support of his best bud Isaac (Nat Woolf), who will soon lose both eyes to his disease, and is immediately drawn to the tomboyish Hazel. The pair finds an instant connection in their love of a book about cancer, their thoughts about life – and how they know it’s going to be short – and with two sets of supportive parents looking on happily but warily, a friendship develops.

It’s more than that of course, and the ever-gallant Gus decides to use his “Make A Wish” moment for a trip to Amsterdam for the two of them to meet Peter Van Houten, the man behind the book they love. They had both contacted him by email, and with ever-supportive Grace’s mom (Laura Dern) in tow and looking to be matchmaker, a wonderful trip to Old Europe follows.

There’s a posh meal, champagne, Gus declaring his barely-hidden love for Hazel (despite her worry they should just be “friends”) and everything is “cool” and “awesome,” like it is for teens these days. But then, when they finally meet Van Houten (Willem DeFoe), he’s a nasty, bad-tempered drunk with no answers and little sympathy. Gus had bad news too – his cancer is back, and it aint going away – but now they become lovers in every way, and look to the future regardless.

Back in the USA things go downhill, and as the couple try to enjoy their wholesome romance, eulogies are requested – and performed at a special “friends only” rehearsal funeral for Gus – before the inevitable midnight phone call finally comes…

If you think this sounds like a romance melodrama worthy of a teenage Barbara Cartland, you’d be absolutely right. Teenage girls across the world will cry and swoon over this regardless of what anyone says, and you can see why; this is teenage cancer via The Gap.

It’s a world where everyone is quirky or handsome with smooth skin, all the parents wear cool clothes, are endlessly caring and there’s never any mention of where on earth the many hundreds of thousands – or even millions – of dollars are coming from to pay for all this treatment.

There’s nothing nasty or icky or gut-wrenchingly awful or excruciating to watch – like cancer really is – and for all her apparent gutsiness, Hazel follows behind Gus like a passive lamb; he’s the boyfriend of her dreams. So of course, he has to die.

That said, Elgort does more or less steal the show, working hard with his showroom dummy-esque role – you almost expect him to have no genitals, like a Ken doll – and it’s actually Woolf, in two scenes where he rages about being dumped by his girlfriend because “she can’t handle him going blind,” who provides the only real-seeming rage or hurt. They’re all teenagers, but where are the tantrums and the whining?

Woodley – great in The Descendents but coming rather ubiquitous – plays a teen well (they all do), and though it just about avoids too much cheese and sugar (save for the scene in the Anne Frank house), this is something that’s likely to be a staple of many family’s DVD collection, despite that fact that males will bridle immediately at the title, and few people over 21 are going to be able to stand watching it, especially since at over two hours it’s way too long.

James Bartlett

 

12A (See IFCO for details)
125 mins

The Fault in Our Stars is released on 20th June 2014

The Fault in Our Stars – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Divergent

tris-four-divergent-movie

DIR: Neil Burger • WRI: Evan Daugherty, Vanessa Taylor • PRO: Lucy Fisher, John J. Kelly, Pouya Shabazian, Douglas Wick • DOP: Alwin H. Küchler • ED: Richard Francis-Bruce, Nancy Richardson • MUS: Junkie XL • DES: Andy Nicholson • CAST: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Maggie Q, Miles Teller, Zoe Kravitz, Ashley Judd
Whether you’re a preteen girl, an Alexander Payne fan, or just watch a lot of adaptations of bestselling novels, Shailene Woodley has likely made some impression on you as a charismatic up-and-comer. From her roots on television in The Secret Life of the American Teenager to her breakout roles in The Descendants and The Spectacular Now, Woodley is now making a play for the young adult dystopian franchise with Divergent, a title which, when accompanying this particular film, appears wildly ambitious.

Based on the first in a series of novels by Veronica Roth, Divergent is set in a future dystopian Chicago in which society is sorted into five groups, or factions, based on personality types: Abnegation, for the selfless; Amity, for the kind and pacifistic; Candour, for the honest; Dauntless, for the brave; and Erudite, for the intelligent. So far, so Harry Potter. Divergent’s version of the Sorting Hat sees the city’s 16-year-olds take a test determining the faction to which one is best-suited. While they are theoretically free to deviate from the recommended result at the subsequent choosing ceremony, they can be disowned and left factionless if they don’t fit into their new group – becoming, essentially, homeless vagabonds.

Divergent’s heroine, Beatrice ‘Tris’ Prior (Woodley), is told by the test co-ordinator, Tori, (Maggie Q) that her results are inconclusive, as she has the attributes of several factions, making her a Divergent type. Tori urges her to conceal this information, as Divergents are considered a threat to the status quo due to their unpredictable way of thinking. At the choosing ceremony, Tris joins the Dauntless faction, the soldier/warrior group who make up the law enforcement and military of Chicago. The film follows her subsequent battle to simultaneously stand out and fit in to her new role.

Divergent does things by-the-book, and unfortunately, that book (Divergent by Veronica Roth) is little better than a vague, elementary mish-mash of tropes from young-adult and science-fiction literature: A ‘Chosen One’; a beautiful, moody love interest; a bullying rival; a family, torn apart; secret identities and allegiances; political manoeuvring and corrupt government; and a rite of passage during which one must endure frankly startling violence. The sheer quantity of themes and motifs Divergent introduces means that none are developed with any nuance, and it feels like the film is trying to do far too much.

The premise is weak – while the idea of testing for and choosing one’s path in life from a relatively clueless teenage perspective makes for a passable allegory, it’s hard to grasp that the incredibly reductive faction system could actually hold sway for a hundred years, even in a ‘post-war’ culture of fear briefly alluded to in the opening narration. Although, when the characters presented in Divergent are as one-dimensional as the factions demand them to be, maybe it’s not that much of a stretch. It does, however, feel like lazy storytelling.

A number of stars, rising and risen, populate the cast of Divergent. The best of these, (aside from Woodley, who is doing her best with the material) is Kate Winslet as Jeanine Matthews, the icy, Aryan-looking Erudite leader with a steadfast belief in the faction system. Perhaps because of her status as a beloved English Rose, (or as the beloved American Rose of Titanic?) Winslet rarely appears in villainous roles, but if anything good comes of Divergent, it’s the proof that she is well-able to imbue even the flimsiest of evil characters with equal parts officious pomp and underlying malevolent intent. Sadly, the aforementioned weak characterisation of almost every character in the film at the expense of plot or narrative convenience, fails to elicit any other standout performances.

At a snip under 140 minutes, the film’s runtime is epically long – it matches that of Darren Aronofsky’s Biblical epic Noah, also out this week.  Yet a little research reveals this kind of runtime is in line with its current generic contemporaries: Hunger Games: Catching Fire runs at a staggering 146 minutes, while Mortal Instruments: City of Bones clocks in at a slightly less bum-numbing 130 minutes. Is this some sort of attempt to correct our preteen girls’ technologically-shortened attention spans? Once again, it feels like lazy storytelling, throwing a dozen narrative elements at the wall to see what sticks and not editing down the difference.

While star power may draw audiences to Divergent – its leading man, Theo Jame,s may have the bone structure and smoulder to usurp Robert Pattinson on Tumblrs everywhere –the film’s creative choices, or lack thereof, fail to distinguish it in an already crowded genre. Divert your course elsewhere this week.

Stacy Grouden

12A (See IFCO for details)
139 mins

Divergent is released on 4th April 2014

Divergent – Official Website

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Cinema Review: The Descendants

would you walk with this man on a beach at sunrise...?

DIR: Alexander Payne • WRI: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash • PRO: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor • DOP: Phedon Papamichael • ED: Kevin Tent • DES: Jane Ann Stewart • Cast: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller

Having recently carted away Best Film and Best Actor from this year’s Golden Globes, The Descendants should seem like an early shoo-in for entry on the Best Of 2012 Lists. However, come December, you’ll be hard pressed to remember anything from this movie other than its beautiful locales.

George Clooney is Matt King, a rich Hawaiian lawyer whose family happens to own a large portion of one of the islands. Right in the middle of negotiations about who the family should sell it to, Matt’s wife has an accident and slips into a coma. Matt is now left to look after his two estranged daughters; Alexandra (Shailene Woodley, beautiful but troubled) and Scottie (Amara Miller, cute but lonely). Matt also discovers that his wife has been having an affair and was planning on divorcing him soon. With her still in a coma, Matt has no-one to unleash this anger out on, and so the film shows his life falling apart and his attempts to reshape it into something worth living.

This is by far director Alexander Payne’s least funny movie, as the comedy to tragedy ratio in Election, About Schmidt and Sideways was better balanced, but here the movie is mostly stuck in glumsville. Clooney is excellent as the suddenly put upon father, and the daughters are great, as well as the supporting cast of Robert Forster, Matthew Lillard, Judy Greer and Beau Bridges. But this movie suffers from the same problem as The Artist, in that it’s a very average story told very, very well. So while at the time it’ll seem great, from a distance it won’t be clear why.

Rory Cashin

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
The Descendants is released on 27th January 2012

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWHNXJ1K4yA

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