Tuesday, May 13, 2014

“Divergent” Takes The Boring Route Through The Dystopia

When will people learn that trying to please everyone pleases no one? Those walking in cold to “Divergent” will feel bored by the generic plot and lackluster characters. If you're a fan, it'll feel like a slap in the face to the source material.

There's a reason the “Divergent” series was hyped up as the heir to the “Hunger Games” franchise. While the author's biases (mostly in the form of anti-intellectualism) hold the series back, talent can help compensate for a writer's failings or at least help you tolerate them. And Tris (Shailene Woodley) can certainly be compared to Katniss Everdeen. She is another complex heroine, capable of cruelty and callousness as well as bravery and heroism. And she certainly doesn't see her love interest as her perfect knight in shining armor. But “Divergent” is merely the cowering reflection of what “Hunger Games” could have been had its filmmakers been just as timid.

My impressions of the movie stem from only having read the first book in the trilogy, and they have only helped to deepen what would've been a very unfavorable impression going in blind. There is great irony, even humor, in this latest failure to deliver due to the fact that the movie seems to share the same fear as the futuristic dystopian society it aims to be pillorying: an almost paralyzing terror of Tris herself.

Like many other YA adaptations, “Divergent” takes place in a dystopian (has hope been officially declared dead?) society where it's members choose which faction they will belong to for the rest of their lives at age sixteen: Erudite, who value knowledge and make up the media, Amity, who value peace and are the counselors and farmers, Dauntless, who value bravery and comprise the military. Tris's faction, Abnegation, values selflessness and service and control the government.

Then there are the factionless, who for whatever reason, have no faction. They seem homeless and/or equipped with the bare minimum (sometimes not even that) and have the least desirable jobs, such as janitorial work. When Tris chooses Dauntless, she soon has to compete with other recruits to earn a place there-or risk joining them.

The danger increases when Tris discovers that she's Divergent, meaning that her mind can't be confined to one way of thinking, which jeopardizes the control that her society's leaders so desperately desire.

She naturally starts at the bottom of the ranks and just as predictably rises. This is where the movie first starts to stumble. Tris is competing with others, some enemies, some friends, for entry into Dauntless, and failure has dire consequences. Competition like this inevitably brings out the worst in people, or at least a bit of their darker sides.

But you'd hardly know it here. Tris and her friends are always nice to each other, and they never do anything wrong. Or if they do, they do it because they have no choice. Naturally, her enemies have no redeeming qualities, and when they have her in their sights, they aren't allowed to do lasting damage. Really, the training and all that occurs in general is so sanitized you almost wonder why anyone is struggling at all.

No one watching “Divergent” can be foolish enough to think Tris won't survive the first movie at least, but all the timidity means it that the suspense, and therefore any excitement, is completely exorcised. It actually makes a moviegoer yearn for a little projectile vomiting to liven things up. Where's the little possessed Regan when you need her?

This removes all the edge from Tris, thus making her (and everybody else) a lot less interesting. Hell, “Divergent” even goes out of the way to show that Tris doesn't want to have sex with her obligatory love interest just yet.

Shailene Woodley has done excellent work in the past in films such as “The Descendants” and “The Spectacular Now,” and this this should have been her coming-out party, where she was introduced to the mainstream in all her talent and glory, (again, think Jennifer Lawrence in “Hunger Games”) complete with a meaty, juicy role to sink her teeth into. Instead, it bears more resemblance to processed tofu.

What with this mess and her role as Mary Jane Watson being edited out of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” here's hoping Woodley gets a role worthy of the talent she seems to possess and hasn't been fully revealed yet. Maybe the upcoming adaptation of “The Fault In Our Stars?”

Grade: D

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Movie Review: Le Week-end

“Le Week-End” Takes You On A Picturesque Getaway To Hades

Film is full of great lovers, and today they are bound less and less by age, location, time, or race. They can make audiences swoon as they recall the tender first years of their love, the joy and tears of what comes after, and even the bittersweet years as they progress and the losses they must inevitably face. Then there are the couple who show us the sobering consequences when two people are tragically, perfectly matched by their failings. “Le Week-End” is the latter.

Film is full of great lovers, and today they are bound less and less by age, location, time, or race. They can make audiences swoon as they recall

It revolves around Meg (Lindsay Duncan) and Nick (Jim Broadbent), who are celebrating their thirtieth anniversary with a weekend in Paris. But it doesn't take long to discover that their marital bed is comprised less of roses than thorns.

Dysfunctional couples are practically the lifeblood of film, television, and any other media you can name. But what's the point if none of the dysfunction is enough to make us care, draw us in, or even really entertain us well?

Furthermore, what if one half of the couple seems almost devoid of the basic characteristics that any sane person would want in a partner? Nick may seem a bit inadequate to grapple with some of the obstacles life throws his way, but that merely makes him another person who hasn't lived up to his own potential or expectations. Hardly a reason to condemn him.

His wife Meg, on the other hand, doesn't seem to have any positive qualities whatsoever. She constantly belittles and insults her husband, seems repulsed by his touch and the kindness he shows her, informs him when she intends to start an affair with another man, and threatens to break things off with her husband on their anniversary. The only time she seems to be able to be affable to Nick is after he suffers some kind of physical pain. Hers is the brittle exterior of a character who can't seem to stand living, the woman who's angriest when she has nothing to be angry about.

By the end, I was baffled that anyone who got to know her would actually choose to marry her, or even stand spending any amount of time in her company. The pair may flirt with parting ways, but as the movie progresses you can guess the end. Meg and Nick have become twisted soul mates, matched because of the crippling inadequacies and insecurities that have held them back and prevented them from reaching the greater heights that they're capable of. Separated, they may have been able to overcome them. Together, they're brought to full bloom.

In the end, “Le Week-End” doesn't make you believe in love; it makes you contemplate the beauty of divorce. The gift of extricating yourself from the toxic grip of The One who cannot be changed, fixed, or even persuaded to show the most basic kindness to the person they manage to love.

When Nick's friend Morgan (or rather, Jeff Goldlum playing Jeff Goldblum) shows up, it's a welcome relief, even when his whiny teenage hipster son remarks on what a drag a weekend in Paris is. What does it say about a movie when Goldblum is the best and sanest thing about it? Really, anyone who doesn't resemble Meg and Nick automatically comes off as better.

The only remotely redeemable factor in “Le Week-End” are Broadbent and Duncan themselves, whose tremendous talent actually makes you believe the history and dynamic between this couple. Because of them, they're not only recognizable, they're believable. They're not bad. They're just written that way.

Grade: D

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Movie Review: Like Father Like Son

What I love about being a member of Milwaukee Film is getting to see movies that I never heard of. So this month when they said we were seeing a Japanese film called Like Father, Like Son my first thought was this a remake of the Dudley Moore and Kirk Cameron movie from 1987. But it wasn't.  It was an emotional family drama directed by famed Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda. 

The movie focuses on Ryota a successful business men who sets high standards for his son.  After 6 years he and his wife find out that there was a mix up at the hospital and the son they have been raising isn't their biological son.   The realization of this has a major effect on their life.  Ryota is conflicted since the son they have been raising hasn't been living up to his high standards he thinks maybe his biological son will.  But his hopes a dashed when he finds out that his biological son  has been living with a poor family that don't do things quite the way he would like.  The decision is faced by both families do they just keep raising the kids they have been or do they swap and raise their biological kids?  At first they try it just for weekends.  Ryota's son Keita finds that the freedom in the fun loving house of the other family, while their biological son Ryusei finds their home cold and "like a hotel".

The synopsis sounds like made for TV movie.  Parents raise a kid for 6 years then find out that there was a mix up at the hospital and the son they have been raising wasn't their own.  Somehow Koreeda manages to keep the movie from feeling like a Lifetime movie.  It is very emotional and you really feel for the kids in the movie.  Ryota on the other hand just comes off a a uncaring man and I found that very frustrating.   His character is the stereotypical man who only cares about winning and his own blood.  As a dad myself I found this very upsetting and I got very angry with him as I could not imagine giving up my sons after raising them for six years.  The whole idea of just swapping them seems silly and not sure why anyone would go along with it.  Yet even with this incredibly unlikable character Koreeda kept the movie engrossing.  I found myself tearing up at parts and that had a lot to do the performance of the child actors.  There is such sympathy for them with this crazy situation and the fact they don't understand what is going on around them.

Overall 4/5 stars.  Despite Ryota being extremely unlikable and old fashioned the movie totally had me hooked and emotionally involved.  But couldn't give it 5 starts because his character made me so angry.