Insurgent Movie Review 0 40


This review contains spoilers for Divergent.

In its attempt to stand out from the ever-crowded young adult fantasy adaptations market, The Divergent Series continues with Insurgent, about a dystopian society wherein people are divided into factions depending on their virtues – Abnegation, Erudite, Dauntless, Amity and Candor – and the divergents who threaten that very controlled way of life.

We catch up with Tris (Shailene Woodley) now that she’s broken away from her conformist civilization and trying to fight back against its rulers alongside other rebels on the outside, including boyfriend Four (Theo James) and the unpredictable Peter (Miles Teller). War looms over everything as Janine (Kate Winslet), the leader of the Erudite faction, hunts down all divergents in order to open an ancient box that could reveal the key to everything in their society.

While it wasn’t the slick, action-packed and emotionally resonant YA film they were clearly hoping for, at least Divergent had some sort of grip on its concepts and the characters that populate its futuristic world. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the rather muddled and clunky sequel that not so much fumbles those ideas as drops them off the edge entirely. It’s a case of one step forward and two steps back for the franchise, one that retreads ground already covered in both the previous film and the multitude of other YA adaptations – from its visual aesthetic to its annoyingly open-ended denouement – marking time until the third film that will inevitably be split into two parts.

The Hunger Games franchise is the obvious comparison, not just because of their similar dystopian settings and the way they explore ideas of conformity vs. free will but also because of the strong female character at the centre of each series. Jennifer Lawrence’s performance bolsters the character of Katniss and vice versa whereas Woodley is doing all the heavy lifting here with Tris who feels underwritten and bizarrely underused this time. Woodley is what makes the character in any way interesting and brings a lot of spirit and vim to the character that otherwise just wouldn’t be there.

There’s also some nice supporting work elevating similarly flat roles, namely Teller as the cocky Peter, whose wise-cracks provide some welcome comedic relief from the otherwise morose atmosphere, while Winslet gets a lot more to do this time, hamming it up as the sort of schoolmarm baddie hell-bent on keeping the society in order at all costs. Sadly the same can’t be said for Naomi Watts, whose involvement admittedly adds some heavyweight acting credence but she is utterly wasted in a paper thin, practically inconsequential supporting role which the film weakly tries to tie into the back-story.

Robert Schwentke takes over directing duties here from Neil Burger and he brings a certain level of energy to his action sequences, particularly in a virtual reality testing scene where Tris has to save her mother by jumping on a block-like house that’s floating away. Unfortunately those sorts of unique and entertaining sequences are few and far between in a film that’s spends too much of its time floundering, rehashing and skirting around its ideas; it’s a good 20 minutes shorter than the previous instalment but somehow feels longer. If the social commentary about individualism and just being yourself was rather on-the-nose before, it’s positively shoved down your throat this time around with a sequel that, despite some bright sparks in the cast and a couple of diverting set-pieces, is confused, derivative and more than a little bit dull.

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I’m a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features.

I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 414

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 447

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10