Thursday, August 25, 2016

Bourne There, Done That

There are many things to say about the Bourne series - namely they were exciting and thrilling to watch. But going a bit deeper than just the two hours of intense fight scenes, betrayal and hidden, ugly truths behind the past of our amnesiac-riddled protagonist, the series (more so Supremacy and Ultimatum when Paul Greengrass took over the reigns from Doug Liman) is a product of its time and place with the War on Terrorism seemingly never-ending, headlines and reports of the U.S. Government engaging in torturing enemy combatants under the guise of protecting American lives and collecting intel, and unchecked powers that have been granted after the attacks in New York and the nation's capitol. The character of Jason Bourne is perhaps an apt metaphor of our mindset at the time - unsure and never fully trusting the powers-that-be. But most of all, the one thing we could never say about the series is this: it was never boring and uninteresting.

Jason Bourne, the fifth installment in the series, is, sadly, just that. Years after the events in Ultimatum, Bourne (once again played by Matt Damon) has gone off the grid in order to avoid detection by the CIA and the shadow organization, Project Treadstone, which created him. His exile is short-lived once Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) hacks into the CIA's mainframe to leak a new black ops program, Iron Hand, and becomes the target of both the CIA and its creator, Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones). From Greece to Berlin to Laas Vegas, Bourne must stay one step ahead of an agency that still wants him dead, a tenacious young cyber obs expert, Heather Lee (newly minted Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander) and a former Brackbriar assassin (Vincent Cassell) with an ax to grind against Bourne in order to find out the connection between Iron Hand and the death of Richard Webb, Jason's father. Sounds like an intriguing, even exciting plot, right?

Think again. The whole plot just feels like Greengrass and his screenwriter, Christopher Rouse (who also serves as film editor) are rehashing the same beats that were done before in Supremacy, Ultimatum and even in The Bourne Legacy. Substitute Iron Hand for Treadstone; Jason trying to piece together the mystery surrounding his father's death for him to recollect is memories before he went rouge thought the first three movies; Dewey's justification for invading privacy for protecting his country for Noah Volson getting the green light to engage in torture and rendition in Ultimatium; Heather Lee as the agent who sees through the BS for Pamela Landy; and Cassell as the mindless assassin who's sent to silence Bourne before the CIA's dirty secrets become public knowledge; and what you have is basically the same song and dance we've seen countless times over the span of three movies and one spin-off.

Which isn't to say there aren't any redeemable aspects to Jason Bourne, because there are. As per usual, the action scenes and fight choreography are top notch; in particular, the Greek parliament riot sequence and the car chase in Vegas call to mind one of the reasons why we loved the series in the first place: the shot in real time camerawork and use of practical stunt work, as opposed to over reliance on computer-generated effects. Vikander gives a solid performance as Heather Lee, and it's always fun to see Tommy Lee Jones playing a bastard who wraps himself in the stars & stripes, but, as I stated before, all of this feels like recycled material from previous installments of the franchise. Sure, this one brings up issues of cyber-terrorism, hacktivism, and the thin line between protecting the homeland and our rights to privacy, but said issues feel like they are taking a backseat to the action. In the end, Jason Bourne ends up where X-Men: Apocalypse was in May: seeing the same beats from other installments and being reminded that they were done better the first time round.

** stars out of ****

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Faboulosly Un-Fabulous

I've said this several times, and I'll repeat myself again: there's not a worse experience at the cinema than sitting through bad comedy. To me, it is the equivalent of nails on a chalkboard, or getting a filling at the dentists office. It's painful, torturous and near-exhausting to sit in a dark room, unamused by the jokes and hi jinks on-screen, praying to yourself that this movie ends quickly before you just decide to walk out and do something more productive with your time. Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie is one of those times where bad comedy drives me up the wall and groan incisively thought the 85 minute run time.

For those who didn't religiously watch AbFab during its run during the early to mid-90's on BBC, PBS or re-runs on Comedy Central (or when it was revived from 2001-2004), here's the gist of it: two middle-aged women, Edina (Jennifer Saunders, who is also producer and co-creator of the series) and Patsy (Joanna Lumley), spend their days chasing the latest fashion trends and designer outfits in London in an attempt to reclaim their glory days as Mods during the 60's. Both women are heavy smokers, can drink Mel Gibson under the table several times over and constantly find new ways to get into trouble and have Eddy's under appreciated daughter, Saffron (Julia Sawalha), bail them out.

The show worked thanks to the writing from Saunders, the comedic rapport between her and Lumley and the funny, sharp satire on fashion and celebrity culture, and my mother and I enjoyed going to Blockbuster Video to purchase rentals of the series on rainy days. The film version is more or less the same thing: Eddy and Patsy are still eternally searching to stay eternally young and fabulous, while Saffron is trying to clean up the pair's latest mess, which is pretty much the overarching problem with the film version: we've seen this episode played out dozens of times, and the latest spin on things has lost its edge and humor.

Yeah, there's a bigger story to all of this: This time, Eddy and Patsy attend a fashion show in an attempt to wrangle Kate Moss to join the former's PR company in a last-ditch attempt to rescue it from going under, only to accidentally knock her off the balcony into the Thames River, creating an over-sensationalized national scandal as her body never re-appears. With the pair now pegged as murders, Eddy and Patsy are on the lam as they exile themselves to French Rivera, her granddaughter Lola (and her money) in tow, to find a fabulously wealthy suitor to bamboozle into holy matrimony so they have live out their golden years in style.

No, seriously - that's the "plot" of the movie: Eddy and Patsy exploit a young teenage girl into acting as their financial accomplice in a potential manslaughter case as they flee from the law, all in another attempt to stay young and retain their self-obsessed and self-indulgent lifestyle. Pardon me if I'm not yukking it up. The overarching theme of Eddy and Patsy struggling to cope with getting older and feelings of emptiness were funny on the TV series because the audience could relate to them feeling like a relic from an age that's passed them by with almost nothing to show for it except their vices. It was fun to watch Eddy and Patsy fight to stay young in their 50's when the show began, but seeing them continue this charade in their 60's in this film version isn't funny or charming, it's just downright sad and pathetic.

And that's my problem with AbFab: The Movie: the jokes and the antics have been played out by this point. We've seen the pair run around and try to recapture their glory days as hot shit in the London fashion scene and by this point, it's just more of the same, but instead of hilarity supposedly ensuing, the humor takes a dark and mean-spirited turn with the subplot of using Saffron's daughter's money to flee the country and bleed her dry. The tongue-in-cheek satire on celebrity culture and how the media sensationalizes tragic stories feels like a constant brick to the face, and while Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley are clearly having a ball revisiting these characters, the results are more irritating, obnoxious and deeply shallow rather than endearing. This is the worst comedy of the summer, far and away, and right there with the equally obnoxious and stupid Independence Day: Resurgence for the worst movie I've seen in 2016. Sadly, the conga line of dismal summer pictures doesn't end here, as I take on the less-than-stellar return of one Jason Bourne.

Zero stars out of ****

Monday, August 15, 2016

Resurgence Has More Issues Than My Kidneys

Somewhere in the middle of Independence Day: Resurgence, cocky fighter pilot Jake Morrison (Liam Hermsworth) creates a diversion for the remaining surviving pilots to escape the 3,000 ft. long mothership and regroup back to Area 51. He does this by -- and I'm not kidding -- whipping his dick out and taking a piss on the alien ship. I bet Roland Emmerich (who also co-wrote and co-produced) thought this was a nice bit of humor to alleviate the supposed tension in the scene, but in reality, it's the perfect metaphor for how he, Dean Devlin, James Vanderbilt and everyone else who was involved with this piece of shit is pissing on what made the original sci-fi invasion blockbuster enjoyable, as well as what they think of the paying audience. It's the same visceral 'fuck you!' feeling I got watching past summer junk like Michael Bay's vile Bad Boys 2 or Adam Sander's reprehensible That's My Boy, as if they're actively telling us, "yeah, this movie sucks, and you just wasted your money and your time, sucker!"

It's been 20 years since the first invasion and in that time, humanity has advanced significantly: using the remains of the alien technology, planet Earth has created the Earth Space Defense program, complete with fighter jets which are capable of space travel, putting lasers on the moon and other neat goodies (surprisingly enough, there's no flying cars, and guns are still a thing, given they have laser weaponry and an advanced nuclear arsenal) that feels like something out of Star Trek. Unfortunately, all the advancements made in the two decades past can't stop the aliens from returning with a bigger fleet, a bigger mothership and causing more destruction than all of Michael Bay's Transformers movies combined. See, before Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum took out the mothership in the first movie, the aliens sent out a distress signal, calling for re-reinforcements, or as I like to call it - the thinly veiled excuse to make this crap. Oh, and speaking of Smith, he's not in this movie, which means he, despite starring in dreadful popcorn flicks like Wild Wild West and After Earth, made one of the wiser career decisions of his career. In his place is his son, elite fighter pilot Dylan Hiller (Jessie Usher) trying to recapture the charaisma and the swagger of Smith's Steven Hiller character, and it goes about as well as you'd expect this sort of thing to go - like a balloon full of lead.

Smith might be gone, but the vets from the first movie mostly return, including Bill Pullman as Thomas Whitmore, Judd Hirsch as David's stereotypical Jewish father, the reliable Jeff Goldblum as David Levinson, now chief of the Earth Space Defense program and Brett Spiner as the irritating wacky scientist/comic relief character. Vivica A. Fox is also back, but given that she's so inconsequential in this installment, she might as well not have bothered to star in it. There's also new characters, like the grown-up daughter of President Whitmore, Patricia (scream queen Makia Monoroe), who, like her father, is a fighter pilot; Rain Lao (Angelababy, aka - Yang Ying) another fighter pilot in the ESD; Dr. Catherine Marceaux (art house darling Charlotte Gainsbrough), an associate/love interest to Levinson; and Selma Ward as Elizabeth Langford, the 45th and first woman president of the United States, who....you know what, I don't give a fuck! These characters really don't make much of an impression because they're mostly one-dimensional. The original film had paper-thin characters as well, but at least the actors had charisma and a solid rapport to cover up the problems with the script. In this one, it looks like they're all phoning in their collective checks, as if making this bloated monstrosity was the last thing on their minds, and it wouldn't surprise me it it was.

Perhaps the worst aspect of Resurgence is the action scenes and the visual effects, namely, that the film's second and third act is just one scene of cities being wasted by the alien invaders after another, or just watching planes being swatted from the sky by the queen bee alien. To put this in perspective: the first movie was a Michael Bay-style mindless popcorn flick before Michael Bay re-wrote the rules on what a brainless popcorn movie could be, but the way the action and the destruction was captured was an impressive feat for its day and age. When we see the White House and downtown Manhattan being blown to smithereens, it had significance; the use of scale models in close ups being destroyed give it impact because we felt and believed that it was real. In Resurgence, the sight of seeing London, Beijing, and the Eastern Seaboard being destroyed doesn't hold up to the more practical-based effects of the first one because we know it's all artificial and fake, it simply takes the surprise and the excitement out of it.

Independence Day: Resurgence is a total mess of a summer movie. The characters are too many and too flat and one-dimensional to feel for any of them, the acting is on full autopilot/paycheck mode, and the script is bot too stupid to be enjoyed, feels like a rehash of what we saw the first time around. The worst part are the action scenes, it's an overload of pixilated, prolonged carnage, and overbearing sound mixing and editing that pummels you into submission. The original had a runtime of two hours and twenty-one minutes, yet the pacing felt like a breezy, two-hour affair. This new movie is two hours, yet I felt like I was trapped watching Transformers: Age of Extinction, which was 165 minutes long. It just doesn't end, and you're wishing you could get your time back, as well as your money. Sadly, this might not be the worst film I've seen this year: I can stomach bad popcorn movies, but unfunny and borderline obnoxious "comedies" will make my spin my wheels every time. This movie, though? This wheel just might explode......

Zero stars out of ****

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Excelsior!

Yeah, yeah, it's been two months since I've done any sort of review for my blog.

Unfortunately, life throws you a wicked curveball from time to time. 

Mark Watney being stranded on a godforsaken desert planet with limited resources and almost no chance of a rescue team being sent to bring him home was his.

War Machine facing paralysis after a brutal slugfest with his fellow Avengers was his.

Pat Solitiano Jr. leaning to control and manage his bipolar disorder was his

A run in with hypertension, a failing kidney and high blood pressure is mine. That's one hell of a curveball, wouldn't you say?

As frightened as I am of doing dialysis three times a day, learning to adjust to a new low-sodium diet, resisting the temptation to scarf down french fries, hamburgers, hot dogs, etc buffalo wings, etc, and worrying about my body, I come to a few realizations:

My parents, as freaked out as they were about my situation, told me that I would get through this. My friends via social media and in real life, told me the exact same thing. And the characters I previously mentioned didn't roll over and die, either.

Watney "scienced the shit" out of man-made home on Mars, grew food, made water, and found a way to communicate with NASA to get back home. Pat Jr. made a new friend, learned to control his mental issues trough dance and learned to let his ex-wife go. And Rhodey vowed to keep going through his rehabilitation process like a boss.

I'm going to take their lead. Yes, this a scary new reality for me. But I won't give into despair. I'm going own this and adjust. My life won't be the same, but it can be lived. And I'm going to keep doing what I love: reviewing movies. Finish culinary school. Be more social with friends. This shit won't stop me.

Excelsior!
Last week in the hospital. My hat and beard game are on point.
Now that I've got that bit of business out of the way, I have a shitload of movies that I need to talk about, but where to start.......I know! That sequel to the 1996 sci-fi disaster epic! Sure, the summer movie season has been something of a letdown, but Roland Emmerich's Independence Day: Resurgence can't be White House Down and 2012 Emmerich, right? It's going to be at least like The Day After Tomorrow or Stargate Emmerich, right? 

...........Right?????

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

From 20th Century Fox, the studio that brought you Wolverine & the X-MenHugh Jackman & the X-Men Too; That One X-Men Movie Everyone and Their Mother Hated; Hugh Jackman & The Shitty Wolverine Origin Story That Fucked Up Deadpool So We Had to Reboot It Again; The Better, Darker Wolverine Movie; The Reboot X-Men Movie Where Logan Told James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender to Fuck Off; Wolverine Goes Back In Time To Save the Future; Ryan Reynolds: The Second Coming of Hugh Jackman When He Hangs Up the Claws; and this year's Academy Award-winning feature, Fucked By a Bear: Leo DiCaprio Wants an Oscar Really, Really Bad, comes this summer's anticipated superhero team...X-Men: The Greatest Hits! Yeah, there's some new stuff with some blue guy named Apocalypse who wants to destroy the world because the script says so, but who wants new stuff when we can rehash all the best bits from around the course of the half-dozen or so movies from the franchise! You remember the ongoing conflict between frenemies Charles Xavier (Professor X) and Eric Lehnsherr (Magneto), right? Well, it's been reignited when he joins the blue guy and kidnaps his friend at the mansion for nefarious purposes! And despite the fact we have new mutants that don't do much in this installment like that one Asian mutant in X-Men: The Animated Series and Olivia Munn in a skin-tight outfit, wielding a ninja sword; we're bringing back the tried and true original gang, like a young Cyclops, a young Storm, Jennifer Lawrence, the blue furball who used to date Jennifer Lawrence, and Sansa Stark! And we all know how much Quicksilver was became both a fan favorite in the last movie and more liked that the other movie with Quicksilver in it (suck it, Joss Whedon!), so he's back doing the same thing he did in the last movie where he comes in and saves everyone whilst being very funny! Who needs to see character development or the filmmakers trying to bring cohesion to this confusing timeline of X-Men features when we can show cool special effects and neat fight scenes where the youngin's can show off their powers! That's why you paid us millions of dollars over the course of nine movies - to see Hugh Jackman and his comrades tear shit up!

Okay, okay, I think you get the point, but let me expand a bit further on why X-Men: Apocalypse is the weakest entry in the X-Men canon: First - the timeline just feels disjointed and confusing at this point. When Fox and longtime X-Men producer Lauren Shuler Donner decided to hit the reboot button on the series with First Class, Charles, Raven, Eric and the rest were well in their early 20's in 1962 where they helped save the world from Sebastian Shaw's plot of getting the U.S. and the USSR engaged in a nuclear war. By the time Apocalypse takes place, it's 1983 - a full 21 years since the events of the reboot, yet all the actors look like they've only aged about 5 to 6 years from then until now. You'd think McAvoy, Fassbender, Hoult and Lawrence would at least begin to look like their counterparts in the original X-Men series in terms of appearance, but they don't. It's a jarring thing to see how much the characters look almost the same from the first movie, up until this new one. And speaking of disjointed, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Cyclops (Tye Sherridan) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) follow Col. William Stryker as he kidnaps the remaining members of the X-Men to his research facility in Alkali Lake, where they encounter the generation of the Weapon X program.....Wolverine?! I'm sorry, but how in the blazes of hell did he wind up back in the clutches of Stryker?!?!?! The last scene in Days of Future Past had Logan fished out of the Potomac River by Mystique who was impersonating the military man himself, thus sparing him from going through the Weapon X program! And yes, this plot point is a.) never explained, and b.) mostly pointless. In fact, you could have cut out this whole section with Stryker and Wolverine, and instead how Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) train up the new generation of soon-to-be X-Men as they get ready for their showdown with En Sabah Nur (Oscar Issac, decked out in waaaaaaay too much prosthetics and makeup) and the Four Hoursemen - Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Psylock (Olivia Munn), Archangel (Ben Hardy) and Storm (Alexandra Shipp). But nope - gotta have Wolverine in there to get us fanboys jizzing in our pants for the next solo adventure starring Hugh Jackman! It's an effective scene, for sure, but it really doesn't make sense for that whole section to be in the film, except to ret-con a plot point that will be expanded in future installments.


You may have noticed another problem with this movie I've mentioned in my satire: It's basically director Bryan Singer rehashing the same conflicts and fun moments from previous installments of the franchise and throwing them into Apocalypse, which only highlights just how stale this series is becoming. Yes, it's fun to see Quicksilver (once again, Evan Peters runs away with the movie) zoom into the face of certain death and save his fellow mutants, but this time, it felt like I was watching a You Tube clip of the same action scene in Days of Future Past. The Charles-Erik conflict that's been the driving force in damn-near all of the X-Men movies returns yet again as Xavier learns of his old friend's tragic loss of his wife and child as he was living a quiet life in Poland and ends up as the last of the Four Horsemen. Honestly, it's the best part of the whole movie because for the first time in the series, you really begin to empathize with Lehnsherr - his tragic upbringing, his rage and hatred at how he's been abused by the world, and when he finally finds a small measure of peace and tries to implement what Xavier has been trying to teach him, that peace is taken from him under circumstances that were beyond his control. It's a juicy role that Fassbender completely nails, and he winds up giving the best performance in the film. But as I said earlier, it's basically Xavier's squad verses Magneto trying to cleanse the earth for the benefit of mutants everywhere. Like his plain in the first X-Men movie. And where he screws over Xavier in X2. And when he tries to kill a mutant who can suppress other mutant powers in The Last Stand. And when he tries to nuke both the U.S. and Soviet warships near the end of First Class. And when he tries to kill Nixon with the Sentinals in Days of Future Past. Lather, rinse and repeat.

At one point, Jean, Scott and Nightcrawler are at the cinema watching Return of the Jedi, where the all remark that the third movie is always the worst one. It's meant to be a a jab at Brett Ratner's dreadful X-Men: The Last Stand, but said jab feels both unwarranted and hypocritical, given that X-Men: Apocalypse is easily the worst film since that 2006 misfire and 2009's atrocious Wolverine-centric origins story. Oh, and when it comes to threequels, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Captain America: Civil War, and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King would love to tell you that you have no idea what you're talking about.

** stars out of ****

Saturday, April 16, 2016

On "Just Don't Give a Fuck" Mode

If there's a few good things I can say about The Divergent Series: Allegiant, they are the following:


  1. I only have to play "Name That Sci-Fi Film Reference!" once, because this installment of this stale Hunger Games-knockoff really only borrows from another slightly better dystopain sci-fi series in the form of Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials.
  2. Miles Teller really is the best part of this whole movie. You can see how much he does not want to be apart of this series, and each time he speaks, the disdain comes comes through loud and clear. He knows this is a waste of his talents and his time, and he allows the audience in on the joke. 
Besides that, though? Allegiant is bad. It's legitimately bad, in addition to being even duller affair to sit through than the first two, which is saying something. After the revelation that Chicago was one big experiment in order to help repopulate the world and the destruction of the faction system, the city of Chicago is on the verge of civil war between followers of Johanna and Evelyn, one again played by Octavia Spencer and Naomi Watts, respectively. Oh, yeah, I forgot to say this is hours after the second movie takes place. Really. Evelyn, leader of Factionless, has killed off Jeannine (which we saw at the end of the second movie) and has manned soldiers at the wall itself, making sure people don't try to escape. Again, this is not even a full 24 hours after the events of the second film. And now, there's a civil war between the remaining factions of Chi-town and Factionless. Say with me now: Bullshit!! And if you think that's a big flub, take a look at Tris Prior's haircut, before & after:


Before...
...and after
That's right: the movie is so goddamn lazy that they couldn't bother to keep the actress's hair style consistent. And again, and I can't stress this enough, this is all supposedly hours after Insurgent. Jesus, if director Robert Schwentke's lack of continuity and plausibility was this bad, no wonder she, Four (Theo James), Christina (Zoe Kravitz), her brother Caleb (Ansel Egort) and Milles Teller escape the Windy City...even-though there were supposedly soldiers manning the wall at all times. Oh, and why are Tris and the gang dragging Miles Teller along? Last time, he helped Jeannine use mind-control to make people commit suicide in order to draw her out. Why would they think this unrepentant rat bastard would turn a new leaf? Wouldn't it be wiser to leave this little shit back in Chicago and leave him to his own fate? And if you guessed that he sells out his compadres again in this movie, congratulations; you've spotted out how incredibly lazy the writing is and how little characterization there is as well.

The gang's wonder at what they'll see over the Wall becomes a nightmare, as they find themselves staring at dodgy visual effects and several monotonous minutes of them walking across a rejected look of an apocalyptic wasteland from Mad Max: Fury Road. They eventually are taken in by David, the leader of the Bureau for Genetic Welfare, an organization dedicated to studying the last pockets of human civilization in order to.....I dunno, save humanity or some shit? He's also played by Jeff Daniels, who tries to lend this movie some measure of gravitas, but all he does is spend his time doing three things: 1.) spouting line after line of exposition explaining what happened to the word and what their mission statement is, 2.) spouting sci-fi techno-babble bullshit nonsense, and 3.) being the primary wolf in sheep's clothing. Yes, Daniels is the villain, and if you thought the faction system died with Kate Winslet's tyrannical matriarch antagonist, the joke's on you, because this Bureau is basically another system of putting people into factions, deeming who is "genetically pure" and who is "genetically damaged".

Remember when I said I'd be playing the "Name That Sci-Fi Film Reference" only once? I lied, because this movie not only borrows from the main plot of The Scorch Trials, but the theme of determining who is pure and who is not is also taken from Harry Potter, both book and film series. Oh, and the scientific organization/burreacracy-turned totalitarian regime trying to suppress others or an entire group of people and/or commit genocide? Ideas lifted from Equilibrium and Ultraviolet. When you're lifting ideas from that incompetent hack, you know the franchise has run out of ideas. If it sounds like this review is on 'I don't give a flying fuck!' mode, that's only because the movie's on the same wavelength. No one cares at this point about this franchise, and it wouldn't surprise me to hear from its stars like Shaileen Woodley and Miles Teller say that making these films made them go back into the indie scene, swearing off tentpole features. Speaking of the former, Woodley, who's carried the first two films on her shoulders, seems to have given up herself and just decided to cash in her check. Before, it was interesting to see her play this young woman who's coming into her own and trying to stay alive in this dystopian nightmare, but that pull and aurora she gave off on Tris Prior is long gone by the end of this movie. The other younger actors - from Egort and James to Teller and Kravitz - are stuck playing one-note characters, though Teller at least knows how shit the script and this series is, and just milks how much disdain he has for being suckered into this mess; while seasoned character actors like Spencer, Watts and Daniels aren't given enough to do and basically phone in their performances, as if they're all waiting for better roles to come along.

Unfortunately, this isn't the end of the series (though after sitting through this tired, pointless crap, you'll wish it were the end), because Summit Entertainment, like most studios these days, decided to split Veronica Roth's book into two halves, milking the udders dry to maximize profits, no matter how pointless and unnecessary it is. So in 2017, we've got the finale to the Divergent series, in the form of Ascendant, but frankly, I'm done with this series. It doesn't make sense, it borrows from other better literary and film works, and it doesn't really have anything to say, except that that they're trying to stake their claim in the YA-film adaptation market, which frankly, needs to wither away and die at this point. Harry Potter and The Hunger Games were terrific to above-average movies which resonated with audiences and had terrific production value, solid writing, a superb ensemble cast and direction that only got better as their respective series' went on. The Divergent Series, by contrast, doesn't have any of those qualities the two previous series share, and it's obvious that it never will.

* star out of ****

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Maze Runner: Insurgent

The last time I dived into the world of Divergent, Tris (played by Shaileen Woodley) had just stopped Jeannine (Kate Winslet) and her dastardly plot to initiate a hostile takeover from Abnegation for control of the remains of a mostly intact Chicago, seemly the last refuge of civilization on Earth. It's been five days since their escape and.....well, Jeannine, despite that setback, has taken over the Windy City and has enacted martial law. So, the whole third act of the first movie where Tris and Four (Theo James) break into Eritude, stop the tyrannical ruler-in-waiting from using a mind-control serum from killing an entire faction? It was all for nought, because she still assumes power. In fact, couldn't she still use the mind-control serum and still pull off her genocidal plan? Being a diabolical villain who's end goal was complete and total power, wouldn't she have a few spares of that drug, or the formula to remake it at the very least? If you've guessed that the mind-control serum will never be brought up again, congratulations, you've spotted a glaring plot hole!

Anyway, in The Divergent Series: Insurgent, Jeannine, through the help of her right-hand henchmen, Eric (once again played by Jai Courtney), has found an ancient relic from a forgotten age, the Tesseract, which if opened, could spell doom for the planet.....Aaaaaaaaand, I'm playing another round of "Name That Sci-Fi Film Reference!"carried over from the first movie. Oh, deep joy. No, it's not the portal from Marvel Cinematic Universe flicks Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers, but it is a multi-sided glowing maguffin that will act as overall main drive of the plot. Tris, Four, Caleb (Ansel Egort) and smug douchebag Miles Teller (his character's name is Peter, but since Teller has played this sort of person in various films before, I'm just going to call him by his first name, since he's essentially playing himself) have escaped to the faction of Amity, led by Johanna, played by Octavia Spencer, a new addition to the series, who will do next to nothing except complain about how she's tired of Tris constantly upending the peace in her community.  We're also introduced to Four's mother, Evelyn, played by Harry Potter alum Naomi Watts, leader of Factionless, a group of underground rebel freedom fighters who want to overthrow the tyrannical regime....and it's a ripoff double-whammy! Not only is Insurgent borrowing from Brett Ratner's Hercules of all things, but they're also borrowing from Joseph Kosinski's Oblivion, as it pertains to having a group of rebels who's leader isn't exactly on the level. Seriously, when you're movie is lifting plot points and character tropes from those two mediocre flicks, you have serious problems.

Like its predecessor before, Insurgent suffers from a lack of originality; it borrows from different elements from other better science-fiction and young-adult adaptations and it fails to produce a different spin of its own. Speaking of borrowing from better sci-fi flicks, she rounds up the remaining Divergents she hasn't killed off and uploads them into the training program from The Matrix and has them undergo a series of brutal trials in order to open the box. When all of the test subjects die inside the Matrix, who else but Miles Teller shows up and rats out Tris by telling the Eritude leader that the cunning warrior attacks his or her enemy by going after the heart....and it's borrowing the scene where Norman Osborn "talks" to the mask of the Green Goblin in Spider-Man, minus the inner monologue from Willem Dafoe. To really hammer home how much this series borrows from other films, I'm going to tell you how this movie ends: Thomas, through injecting himself with Griever venom, reveals that he's been working for an organization called WCKD, who've been using young children and putting them through the Maze as test subjects. After Thomas and his new friends escape the Maze, they learn the truth about why they've been used as test subjects: the planet was hit by a deadly solar flare, followed by a deadly pathogen called the Flare virus, which wiped out civilization as they knew it. The Maze was a testing ground to see if younger people might hold a cure to stop the effects of the virus and restore what's left of civilization. Yes, that's the plot twist to The Maze Runner, but swap out Dylan O'Brien for Shaileen Woodley and the Maze for the factions and the enclosed off ruins of Chicago, and it's essentially the same reveal.

I know I've been harping on this for the entire review, but I swear I now understand how Mathew Buck, a.k.a. "Film Brain" must have felt while reviewing Moon 44 back in 2011: I could look at every scene and figure out where the film has borrowed a specific plot point or maguffin from, and it makes the whole affair a tedious slog to sit through because it brings nothing new to the table.. The only good things I can say about this installment is what I've said about its predecessor, which is that Shaileen Woodley tries her damned hardest to carry the material. Her scenes where she's struggling to come to terms with everything that's happened: the death of her parents, killing Christina's (Zoe Kravitz) love interest, Will, and then confessing her crimes to the Candor court are both powerful and well-acted, because she gives this heroine a convincing vulnerability. And, like last time, Kate Winslet is having a ball playing the tyrannical matriarch. She's a ruthless, power-hungry bitch who revels in being a ruthless, power-hungry bitch who will do whatever it takes to be on top. It kind of reminds me of Lena Heady's Cersei Lannister on Game of Thrones, but in a sci-fi flavor: she's out for hers and she wields her power with absolute certainty and without mercy. Another welcome presence is Teller, playing the slimy, double-crossing prick Peter. He knows he should be doing better work like Whiplash and The Spectacular Now, but if he's going to be on paycheck duty, he might as well chew some scenery and mask his contempt for being in this series, and he delivers some of the best lines in the movie. Aside from the key performances and some rather impressive visual effects work, Insurgent is another formulaic and boring entry in a series that's about a young woman trying to break the shackles of adherence to tradition and conformity, ironically enough. It's not terrible, just more of the same from the first movie. Unfortunately, they made a second sequel, Allegiant, and it makes me pine for the blandness of the first two movies.

** stars out of ****