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.

Give Divergent a Chance Snooty Face

Divergent

Sit down kids I want to have a word with you. I’m going to tell you an incredible story, the story of how I met your mother…. Nope, sorry, wrong topic. I want to tell you why Divergent is worth your time and shouldn’t be dismissed as another Hunger Games rip-off. For an introduction to Divergent have a look at my previous post.

First a disclaimer. When I say Divergent is “good” and “worth your time” I mean that it is good relative to other series in this genre and worth your time if you enjoy YA novels set in a dystopian future. This is not going to win Oscars or Man Booker prizes so take your snooty face and get out of here.

Because I believe in consuming any and all media without judgement (HA!) I have read both the Hunger Games and Divergent trilogies. As I have said in the past the Divergent series “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.” As Divergent star Shailene Woodley has said the two are as alike as Star Wars and Star Trek; both feature a female lead fighting for freedom in a dystopian future but the journeys they take are very different.

I was not a fan of The Hunger Games and despite it being a quick read took forever to read the first book. It wasn’t until I was faced with overnight coach trips to and from Amsterdam that I found myself isolated enough to consider finishing the trilogy. Sadly in my mind the series just got worse and worse as our “strong female lead” Katniss Everdeen continued to spend her time worrying about boys and having things happen to her rather than take much action herself. For balance I know plenty of people who love the books and these opinions are my own and do not reflect those of the BBC (why would they?). Yes I enjoy the films in their own way but I can’t be sure how much of that is down to the sheer amount of Jennifer Lawrence they involve and the amount of leeway I am willing to give her.

KatnissTris

Divergent is better than The Hunger Games (there, I’ve said it again) because “strong female lead” Tris is strong, female, and leads. Tris makes decisions, takes action, and never passes out during climactic battle scenes. More importantly the Divergent series gets better with each edition. While The Hunger Games declined in quality before boring me senseless in the final book, soon to be two whole films, Divergent not only is at its best in book three but actually explains the myriad of grievances I had in the beginning. Plot holes become part of the plot meaning that what could be seen as a weak opener is made more coherent when the series is looked at as a whole.

The result of this is that you might need to give Divergent a chance even after having seen the first film. Reviews are a little mixed and I am worried that this might turn people off what has the potential to be a solid teen franchise. I haven’t seen the film yet (angry glance at PR agencies) so can’t comment myself but I am pretty confidence that some of the story’s weaknesses will be addressed later on in the trilogy.

Most importantly of all the Divergent book trilogy is being adapted into a Divergent film trilogy meaning that the final book will not be split into two money-grabbing, story-stretching films. I think we can all be thankful for that.

Divergent is in UK cinemas from 4th April 2014 and I need someone to go with.

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

The Descendants – LFF Review

Alexander Payne returns seven years after Sideways with an adaptation of Kaui Hart Hemmings’ novel starring George Clooney as Matt King, a man with too much on his plate. Matt is in charge of choosing a buyer for a large area of ancestral land in Hawaii, a sale which will benefit his extended family financially while harming the unspoiled land. He is also dealing with a wife in a coma she will never wake from and two unruly daughters he hasn’t been alone with for seven years. When his oldest daughter Alex (Shailene Woodley) reveals that his wife was having an affair Matt decides to hunt down her lover Brian before she dies.

If this all sounds a bit too much to take in, you know how I felt in the first twenty minutes; the situation with the ancestral land confused me and seemed completely irrelevant. Luckily it all tied together in the end and I almost understand what was going on now.

The story at the core of the film is the rebuilding of the relationship between Matt and Alex as they hunt down Brian. The one thing that unites this estranged pair is their hatred of Brian and the feeling of betrayal and anger towards their comatose mother/wife. Clooney is on fine form in the less than suave role, much better playing an oaf than trying to be cool like in last year’s The American, and Shailene Woodley certainly makes an impression as his bold daughter. Let’s put Woodley down for official one-to-watch status.

Payne is the master at making quality comedy dramas and hasn’t lost the knack since his last feature, after the muddle at the start and a few awkward metaphors The Descendants comes together as a touching and hilarious family dramedy.

Special mentions: Nick Krause for bringing heart and humour to a potentially bland role. Rob Huebel, from the amazing Childrens Hospital, for taking the smallest role and squeezing every last laugh from his few line. Beau Bridges for sporting the style made popular by his brother in The Big Lebowski. And finally, Jameson for not just sponsoring the London Film Festival but for getting their product into the film in full view.

The Descendants screens at the London Film Festival on the 23rd and 24th October 2011 and is in UK cinemas on 27th January 2012.