Insurgent – Film Review

Insurgent

Before we begin I think I should tell you my YA credentials so you know where this review is coming from. I have read all the Hunger Games books and seen the first two films which I don’t rate too highly. I have read all the Divergent books and liked them more than the Hunger Games though the previous film left me a little cold. As for Shailene Woodley and her troop of men in the world of YA I have read and watched both Spectacular Now and The Fault in Our Stars and have mixed feelings for the former pair and moderate praise for the latter. I’ve done my fair share of reading and watching YA and in particular watching Woodley starring in their film adaptations.

Insurgent, and to a greater extent the Divergent trilogy of four, does not stray far from the dystopian future familiar to YA fans. This second instalment finds Tris (Shailene Woodley), our uniquely gifted female lead, hiding as an outlaw while plotting to bring down the Machiavellian Jeanine (Kate Winslet), our evil leader, and shake up their society which has naturally been split into a number of houses districts factions. Along the way people die, secrets are revealed, and allegiances are tested.

The test of a YA film is arguably not in its originality but in how well it executes what we know is coming. Is the action suitably thrilling? Is the plot understandable to those who have not read the books? (Let’s ignore anyone who hasn’t seen the first film, they are on their own.) Can the actors convince us that the world is real? Does the film ever slip into boredom, ridiculousness, or outright confusion?

For my money Insurgent largely succeeds. It takes the plot of the book and streamlines it so that rather than having characters dotting around back and forth the film has more forward momentum and less down time for the audience to lose interest. The action scenes are exciting and Insurgent makes the most of having the half of its set pieces taking place in virtual reality. The CGI is mostly convincing and lends a hand in creating a real looking world for the action to take place in. With the film confined to a city the size of Chicago (because it is Chicago) a few swooping camera shots help to give the audience a lay of the land and get to grips with the dystopia at hand. As a structure the film is all good and just needs the right cast to populate it.

Insurgent 2

Setting aside Kate Winslet and Naomi Watts who pop up occasionally to add credibility to the film, and a franchise to their filmography, the casting for the young characters is pretty impressive. For the most part. Woodley herself has a track record for bringing strength and soul to a literary character and does more of the same here. The film really does rest on her shoulders and she, and her sad eyes, do not disappoint. Theo James reprises his role of Four, the love interest, but I couldn’t help but feel as though the film-makers had wisely minimised his screen time. James is not this cast’s strongest performer and isn’t asked to do much more than look sad/angry and generally be but. Woodley’s frequent co-stars, and love interests elsewhere, Ansel Elgort and Miles Teller provide solid support as Tris’ brother and rival respectively. Teller in particular bring a special quality to his performance as the unreadable Peter and provides the only humour in what is otherwise a very dark film.

And boy is it dark. I lost count of the number of people we got to see being shot in the head. All shooting happens just off-screen of course, this is a 12A. Despite the family friendly age certificate Insurgent doesn’t hold back too much as adult themes of death and (OMG!) sex are never far from cropping up. I realise death is part and parcel of the YA genre but here the killing felt that bit more direct.

Overall Insurgent is perfectly fine. A strong cast, a decent pace, and enjoyable set pieces help Insurgent stand out from its predecessor. All is not perfect, there are plenty of convenient coincidences and sometimes everyone seems a little too serious, but for the genre you could do a lot worse.

If you’ve seen Divergent or read the books then there’s no reason not to see Insurgent. For everyone else… good luck to you.

Insurgent is in UK cinemas now.

Labor Day – LFF Film Review

Labor Day	Photo credit:  Dale Robinette

Jason Reitman made his name making high quality comedy dramas and Labor Day marks something of a departure for him as not only is it his first period film but also, in my opinion at least, is his first out-and-out drama. It is 1987 and an escaped convict (Josh Brolin) takes refuge in the house of a single mother (Kate Winslet) and her only son (Gattlin Griffith). He initially is holding mother and son against their will but as the long weekend passes he becomes less of a kidnapper and more of a refugee as he takes on the role of husband and father that both are missing from their lives.

Reitman is clearly trying to make something a little different to his normal fare here but is doing so in such a self-conscious way that I think he gets a little lost. Scenes within the house are so po-faced it is hard to take them seriously. Josh Brolin may be playing an escaped convict but he plays him as such a gentle giant, such a caring and considerate man, that it is hard to see why he would have escaped from jail in the first place rather than continue to serve his time. Winslet’s sad divorcee is a fragile creature and it is not hard to see why she might start to develop feelings for her kidnapper but the combination of her need for a saviour and his deliberate saviour-like qualities seems a little forced. Clark Gregg plays the ex-husband and father as a sweet and caring man who is perhaps a little bland thanks to limited characterisation. Again it is not obvious why we should see him as being so inadequate in the role of father for an escaped criminal to seem like a viable option. It is as though a particular outcome for the film was sought and so characters were written to suit.

The real star of the film is Gattlin Griffith as the son Henry. It is through his eyes we see this whole ordeal and maybe this is why some of the characters come across as caricatures. Griffith is very much viewing the film along with the audience as I don’t think either of us could ever quite decide if we wanted Brolin to get caught or not.

Jason Reitman has made a quality film with plenty of beautiful images and a raft of strong performances. The film is almost a tactile experience and has such a fully realised setting I felt like I could reach out and feel the roughness of the furniture or taste the peach pie. Where the films struggles is how seriously it takes itself considering its slightly implausible plot. At various times in the film I was incredulous when I realised that only two days had passed when the amount of change in the characters’ relationships would have requited much, much longer. It was a relief when the few scenes set outside the house brought with them laughter and I could take a breath as the story within the house wasn’t going to allow for any smiles unless you were considering how wondering Josh Brolin’s convict was as a family man.

Labor Day (Labour Day?) is a good film if a little too laboured (HA!) to be believable.

Labor Day screens at the festival on the 15th and 19th October and is in UK cinemas on 7th February 2014.

BFI London Film Festival 2013

Divergent – Welcome to the Franchise

DIVERGENT_TRIS_UK DIVERGENT_FOUR_UK

Now that the first moody posters have arrived (click above to enlarge) I think it is about time we talked about Divergent. It’s only a matter of time before the world is forcing you to pay attention to it in the same way they did with Harry Potter, Twilight, and more importantly The Hunger Games. Like the Jennifer Lawrence fronted franchise Divergent is adapted from a trilogy of Young Adult books (the third of which is coming next month) set in a dystopian future with a strong female lead. The books are very popular and in the process of attempting to sneer at them I read the first two and, completely against my will, got hooked. They are not great works of literature but they are engaging, engrossing, very quick to read, and in my opinion are superior to The Hunger Games.

In Divergent the city of Chicago has been fenced off from the rest of the world and society within has split into five different factions to best utilise the skills of each individual with each faction contributing to society in their own way. When someone turns sixteen they must take an aptitude test to discover what faction they are best suited to and then it is up to them to choose which group they join for the rest of their lives. Some people, such as our lead character Tris (played by Shailene Woodley, as all novel characters must be), are Divergent meaning they do not fall into just one category. These people are seen as dangerous, or if you ask me, just well-rounded individuals.

A quick rundown of the five factions:

Divergent Factions

The plot of Divergent follows Tris as she leaves her life in humble Abnegation and joins the violent ranks of Dauntless, tries to hide her true calling as Divergent, falls in love, and maybe starts a revolution of some kind.

Hey, look, a trailer!

The books should make for some good family fun in the cinema and the film looks to be of similar quality to The Hunger Games so hopefully won’t bomb as badly as The Mortal Instruments trilogy is likely to. The films have Kate Winslet involved for a start which puts them miles ahead.

Dauntless is set to come out in the vague period of Spring 2014.

More stills for the super keen:  Continue reading

2012 Golden Globes Nominations

With awards season truly hotting up we are treated with the nominations for the 2012 Golden Globe Awards. They’re an interesting bunch, a lot of the more challenging and/or smaller films have been passed by. The Los Angles Times has it spot on when they say that the nominations seem to recognise those works featuring the A-list actors, more accessible films and less dark dramas. No Tyrannosaur or Like Crazy to be found below.

What you will find is my gut reaction and my opinions for each category (apart from Best Original Song and Best Original Score as that is not my strong suit) whether you want it or not. Continue reading

Titanic 3D – Trailer & Pics

Something odd happened to me as I watched the trailer for Titanic‘s 3D re-release: I got a bit nostalgic for a James Cameron film. The sweeping camera, the intense emotion, the inevitable sinking feeling, and a time when seeing Kate Winslet naked was a treat rather than an inevitability, all rushed back to me, 12 years after I first saw the film. Have I got James Cameron wrong? Was I too harsh when I declared him a prick?

No.

This is a 3D re-release after all, making it more expensive, more difficult to watch and therefore plain unnecessary. In essence, modern-day prickish James Cameron has taken the good work of pre-prick Cameron and retroactively pricked it up… if that makes sense. It’s as if he looked at his back catalogue, saw something of genuine quality and couldn’t help but ruin it. It’s enough to make me shake my fist in the air and shout out in a growl, “CAMERON!”, but I haven’t done that since the last general election (political!)

The trailer is below, and is a bizarre case of a 2D trailer for the re-release of an old film made into in 3D, therefore unable to showcase any of the new draw. There are also some fresh new stills, some including a pre-prick Cameron, which are also from a film over 10 years old. To repeat a joke, you can get 280,000+ more stills by buying Titanic on DVD.

 

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In summary: I do quite like Titanic, just not in 3D please.