Friday, March 27, 2015

Divergent (2014) - Review

The Hunger Games ignited a new type of Young Adult novel adaptation.  Something more dangerous than Twilight, the stakes much higher and the trauma much more realistic.  Dystopian future stuff.  Cautionary tales about a world that has destroyed itself because of pointless wars.  And it’s not just a Battle Royale rip-off, although there are a lot of similarities.  For a kids’ series, it’s actually pretty daring.  So of course it stands to reason that there would be a few knock-offs as well.  Enter Divergent.

Divergent isn’t strictly a rip-off, it just has a lot in common with The Hunger Games.  There’s a strong yet deeply troubled heroine, a twisted regime to topple, sections of people with different cultures (called Factions here rather than Districts), and of course, a tepid love story.  But where The Hunger Games can back up most of its generic plot points with good actors and an interesting aesthetic, Divergent remains middle-of-the-road in all accounts.

The actors are fine, but there are no standouts at all, unlike the wonderful J-Law, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, etc...  I do really like Tony Goldwyn though as the dad.  The plot is serviceable but not exceptional in any way.  The gimmick in this film rather than death games are intense and surreal dream sequences that pose as tests to determine what Faction you belong to.  Each Faction represents a certain personality trait, and those that could potentially belong to multiple Factions is considered Divergent and a threat to society.  So basically if you’re a normal human, then you’re totally boned.

While I feel like there are interesting points to be made about the government, eugenics, “Factionless” (this world’s version of bums), and more, this film doesn’t delve into anything in a very interesting way.  Instead it clings to a fairly typical blockbuster structure without caring enough to go any deeper.

It’s frustrating when you can see good ideas under the surface of a very average film.  But ironically this film is just as one-dimensional as the characters from each Faction.  Better not let them have more than one personality trait!  That’s too confusing.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Mamma Mia! (2008) - Review

Oh Mamma Mia... here we go (again).

While I’m unfamiliar with the musical and am not a fan of ABBA by any stretch of the imagination, I thought this could be alright.  I like Amanda Seyfried well enough – her voice sounded lovely in Les Mis.  But this movie... wow.  In a midst of cartoonishly over-the-top acting, terrible songs, and a barely plodding storyling, this movie just drowns under the weight of its awful.

The songs.  Oh God, the songs.  We get the single good song in the movie right at the beginning (Honey Honey) which was kind of nice of the writers, I suppose.  There are a couple of other decent ones like the title track and Dancing Queen, but most of the songs are either complete garbage, or just plain bizarre.  Sometimes both.

The one I remember the most is The Winner Takes It All, which is maybe one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard.  From a jarring chord progression to lyrical gems such as:

The winner takes it all
The loser's standing small
Beside the victory
That's her destiny

Here’s a free tip, songwriters: never use the word “win” in a song.  I don’t know what it is, but it always sounds childish and stupid.  Muse does it a lot.

Besides the songs we have some awful acting.  None of the main cast, they’re all fine, it’s mostly the two friends of Meryl Streep.  I get that they’re comedic relief, but Jesus Christ they act like they’re in a 30s serial.  I just wanted them to die, but maybe I had already been tainted by these torturous songs.

The storyline is pretty standard: woman has three suitors and she’s gotta choose just one.  Hardly the depth of Les Mis or Sweeney Todd, now is it?  It wouldn’t be so bad if we cared about any of the characters, but while most of the cast is alright, nobody elevates the script enough to make you care about anyone.

And that sums up Mamma Mia pretty well: I just didn’t care about any of it (other than when I was being bombarded with godawful music).

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Penelope (2006) - Review

As it has shown a bit in other reviews, you maybe can tell that I’m not a huge fan of kids’ movies.  I’m of the opinion that you can treat a kid like an actual person instead of resorting to lowest-common-denominator comedy like so many children’s films tend to do.  Luckily Penelope is refreshingly quirky, heavily stylized, kind of adorable, and above all, not stupid.

While this isn’t exactly a kids’ movie per se, it’s innocent enough, has a low rating with nothing really objectionable, and plays everything rather safely.  It’s got a princess of sorts who must go through suitors until she finds her one true love.  It’s all very fairy tale.  Luckily the stylization of the movie works in its credit helping push the fairy tale aspect to the forefront and ultimately make the film more interesting because of it.

Christina Ricci is completely adorable as the titular Penelope even with her pig nose.  Oh yeah, I didn’t tell you?  The main character’s problem is that she has a pig nose, which in the grand scheme of things is not that bad.  Our dashing hero trying to win her this evening will be played by James McAvoy, who does a good job in just about everything I’ve seen him in, and this also stars a pre-Tyrion Lannister, evil Peter Dinklage as the bad guy trying to expose Penelope to the world.
Still pretty fetching actually.

The only issue with the movie is that it gives off a pretty weird message to kids.  Spoilers: she doesn’t keep the pig nose – it disappears by the end of the movie.  Yeah, don’t worry kids, if you feel okay with yourself, then all your deformities will go away!  And it’s kind of weird that the couple doesn’t get together until after she’s super pretty Christina Ricci again.  Sure, he kisses her while he still thinks she has the pig nose... but it’s still a bit confused.

Other than that, Penelope is a pretty charming film with a charming cast and is much more appealing than most of the modern kids’ movies you’ll find.