After the more thrilling Insurgent, this saga reverts to the talky style of the original Divergent movie, constantly explaining this post-apocalyptic world's convoluted mythology before indulging in whizzy action that has little to do with the story or characters. It's a strange step back for a franchise that has such a strong cast and high production values. And this movie also feels frustratingly incomplete, because it's only based on the first half of Veronica Roth's third and final novel (a fourth film, Ascendant, is due next year).
When we last saw our hero Tris (Shailene Woodley), she and her hunky boyfriend Four (Theo James) had overthrown the nasty Erudite leaders to create a "factionless" society in Chicago under new leader Evelyn (Naomi Watts), Four's mother. But Evelyn's willingness to indulge in military excesses causes a rift with the more peace-loving leader Johanna (Octavia Spencer), sparking a civil war. Bored with this, Tris and Four free Tris' brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) from death row and escape over the walls out of Chicago along with cohorts Peter and Christina (Miles Teller and Zoe Kravitz). Fleeing into the fringe, they encounter a peaceful, futuristic community called the Bureau of Genetic Welfare, run by David (Jeff Daniels). There they learn new facts about their past, but they're unable to ignore the unravelling situation in Chicago.
As in the first film, this script is over-packed with long conversations about the society's complicated set-up, and the Bureau has its own set of issues. Some of this information provides welcome context to the earlier films, but the screenwriters also hold back a lot of key details for next time, so this episode is oddly inconclusive. And that also makes it feel dull and contrived, especially since it leaves the characters' motivations so badly muddled. There's also the problem that these movies continually steal ideas and imagery from other films (this time it's Mad Max and The Truman Show).
Continue reading: The Divergent Series: Allegiant Review
A sharp improvement on the original, this second entry in The Divergent Series has a much stronger sense of its premise and characters, which makes it much more exciting to watch. Where Divergent felt gimmicky and a bit shallow, this chapter pushes the characters much deeper, giving the actors a chance to bring them more engagingly to life, which makes the odd set-up more involving as well.
It picks up immediately where the first film ended, with Tris (Shailene Woodley) escaping from post-apocalyptic, segmented-society Chicago with her boyfriend Four (Theo James), her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and their shifty cohort Peter (Miles Teller). Hiding out in the Amity agricultural community, they know that Erudite leader Janine (Kate Winslet) has sent her goons (Jai Courtney and Mekhi Phifer) to find them. Actually, she needs a divergent to open an artefact from the pre-war days so she can rid Chicago of pesky divergents forever. When their location is discovered, Tris and pals head back into the city, teaming up with factionless leader Joanna (Naomi Watts) and getting help from the head of Candor (Daniel Dae Kim) before going to Erudite to face Janine.
The story has a strong push to it, driving these rebels ever closer to a confrontation with their nasty nemesis, and their journey is fraught with surprise wrinkles, vicious battles and some mind-bending imagery. In fact, there are so many dreams, flashbacks and computer simulations that it's not always clear if what's on screen is actually happening or not. But it all looks so cool that we hang on to discover where it'll go next, so the two hours passes briskly, and sometimes breathlessly. The film looks terrific, as director Robert Schwentke keeps the focus on the characters while creating some amazing effects around them, especially in the simulation sequences.
Continue reading: Insurgent Review
Teens tackle yet another dystopian future in this well-made but derivative franchise-launcher. Filmmaker Neil Burger is more interested in whizzy visuals and a thorny plot to pay much attention to the characters or larger underlying themes, which leaves the film feeling eerily superficial. So while the film is relatively entertaining, it ultimately feels rather pointless.
The story's set after a war has reduced Chicago to a walled-in enclave of people divided into five stabilising factions: charitable Abnegation, peaceful Amity, honest Candor, defending Dauntless and brainy Erudite. Tris (Shailene Woodley) was born to parents (Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn) who are leaders in Abnegation, but when time comes for her to select her own path she discovers that she's Divergent, a cross-faction state that threatens those in power. So she chooses to join Dauntless, entering intense physical training under the tutelage of sexy hunk Four (Theo James) and harsh hunk Eric (Jai Courtney). then Dauntless' soldiers get caught up in a power struggle as Erudite leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet) plots to take governmental responsibilities from Abnegation.
All of this scene-setting takes about half of the film's running time, and it's frankly not very exciting. Burger makes sure it looks fantastic, with seamless visual effects, impressive stunt work and flashy action sequences, but the character drama takes longer to kick off. And there's also the problem that it essentially feels like a cross between The Hunger Games and Harry Potter as an unusually gifted teen takes on a controlling society.
Continue reading: Divergent Review
Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge) is the perfect director to take on F. Scott Fitzgerald's iconic novel about the American dream, simply because he's an expert at showing the emptiness of hyperactive excess. The film is a feast for the eye from start to finish, but it also eats away at us with its bleak story of people who live the high life even though it leaves them naggingly unsatisfied.
The tale is told by Nick (Maguire), trying to work through his life-changing summer in 1922 Long Island, where he rented a small cottage across the sound from his wealthy cousin Daisy (Mulligan), who is married to his college pal Tom (Edgerton), an all-American sportsman with an eye for other women. Next door to Nick's cottage is the vast mansion owned by reclusive millionaire Jay Gatsby (DiCaprio), who throws outrageously raucous parties for New York's celebrity class. But Nick realises that Jay only does this to catch the eye of Daisy, because he's still in love with her after a romance five years earlier. Now he wants to take her away from Tom, and he needs Nick's help.
It's tricky to know whether Luhrmann is celebrating Gatsby's luxuriant lifestyle or offering a cautionary tale about the emptiness of materialism. Obviously, the story is trying to do both, and Luhrmann fills the surfaces with decadent extravagance, filling the air with wafting fabric, buckets of glitter and exploding fireworks. Like a lavish 3D pop-up book, the party scenes are wildly over-the-top, as are smaller gatherings in opulent city flats or roaring open-top cars. These people's lives are so vacuous that they live at top speed, always in search of the next thrill. And it's difficult not to see Gatsby's earnest quest as just another greedy acquisition.
Continue reading: The Great Gatsby Review
The story centres on the three Bondurant brothers in rural Virginia. Eldest sibling Forrest (Hardy) runs the family moonshine business with middle brother Howard (Clarke). But the younger Jack (LaBeouf) wants in on the action and secretly teams up with whiz-kid Cricket (DeHaan) to speed up production and sell their wares to a big-city gangster (Oldman). Then slimy city-slicker Federal Agent Rakes (Pearce) arrives, determined to stop bootlegging no matter who he has to torture and kill. Meanwhile, a sexy barmaid (Chastain) with a shady past arrives to distract Forrest, while Jack daringly woos the rebellious daughter (Wasikowska) of the local preacher.
Continue reading: Lawless Review
While its trailers make you believe the small screen gem has been reincarnated from its TV Land graveyard, those expecting a proper big screen revival will be sorely disappointed. In fact, the sisters Ephron have carefully crafted a film that tries and succeeds at not resembling the original. Too bad the parts they took out are all the best bits. The finished product is new and different, but it's too predictable and remarkably devoid of anything entertaining or enduring.
Continue reading: Bewitched Review
Though it goes against everything he stands for, this rejuvenated Pan actually shows signs of growth and maturity. Special effects advancements help Peter and his cohorts pop off the screen. Cinematographer Donald McAlpine expands the rich color palette he utilized in such vivid films as Moulin Rogue and Romeo + Juliet. And director P.J. Hogan slips in subplots of unrequited love, develops pangs of loneliness, and mixes fleeting flights of happiness with his heroism.
Continue reading: Peter Pan (2003) Review
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