Saturday, March 21, 2015

INSURGENT movie review

"What's in the booooooxxxxx?!!"

The Divergent Series: Insurgent is the second film of the Divergent series, as the title subtly put it. We follow Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) after the attack on her home district and as their war on President (?) Jeannie (Kate Winslet).

I liked Divergent. I actually did. It's a bit boring and slow paced, but I thought the world building and the establishing of characters really worked. I tried to get past the built in problems of every YA novel adaptation just copying The Hunger Games (I didn't) and just have a good time with it. I don't feel motivated to watch the first film again but I thought it was a pretty entertaining watch, but unfortunately to say, this movie made me uninterested with the entire series.

Shailene Woodley still stands strong with her portrayal of Tris. She's definitely the bright spot of this movie. She's a great actress, and you can really see that she's trying as hard as she can to make this character work, and for the most part, she does. I found the character work with Tris here to be functional. That's the only word to describe it. Functional. Her character arc in the film is generic for a dystopian-future, young adult heroine. She actually turns into the B-level Katniss Everdeen here. However, her character does choppily get some development, and it was the only thing in the movie I was even remotely interested in.

Other than Woodley, the acting in the movie is just terrible. I'm not saying the movie has terrible actors (although, it does have some of those). I'm saying this movie only consists of actors who are bad or who don't give a damn. Miles Teller and Kate Winslet fall into the latter. Teller looks bored (he's even admit it), and it clearly shows. His character isn't interesting, and he delivered a half-assed performance. Winslet is no different, as she recites lines while walking or standing straight. She gave such a stiff performance, and that's not something you want out of the main antagonist of the film. Other wasted potential in the film include: Octavia Spencer, Ray Stevenson, Ansel Elgort, and Naomi Watts. Oh, and (surprise, surprise) Jai Courtney gives a wooden performance.

While the first film was an prolonged training montage, this film really has a lot going on, but the stakes aren't felt at all. I mentioned earlier that these types of films can't have a stiff villain, because I imagine this film was aiming to be the "stakes are high and tensions are rising between districts, etc. etc." kind of film, but you can't have that without the portrayal of a menacing and ruthless antagonist. Instead, you'll just have an unengaging and boring narrative. 

The film is brought down by a plethora of uninteresting characters and story arcs. Now, I stated that I thought that Divergent did a good job at setting up the world and characters, so naturally, I was looking forward to seeing those characters progress in the sequel. However, the film didn't build off the foundation layed by the first film. They don't really take time to flesh anything out in this sequel. The film gives shallow backstories for characters that could work well as concepts, but they don't leave any room for these things to develop. Instead, there's pretty much two hours of convoluted plot points that don't really come together organically. 

Even with the well-done action scenes and worldbuilding, Insurgent is too convoluted and shallow to function as a second installment of a series. All of the good Shailene Woodley has done for this film is drowned out by the amount of terrible acting and characters. Fans of the book will probably be entertained by this, but others are recommended to just watch The Hunger Games or The Maze Runner, two other series that this series is practically going out of its way to copy.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

CINDERELLA movie review

Another Cinderella Story!

Cinderella is the live-action remake of the 1950 Disney film based on the fairy tale by Charles Perrault. Kenneth Branagh brings to (real) life the classic fairy tale of the good-hearted Cinderella (Lilly James), a servant under her evil Stepmother (Cate Blanchett) who gets the magical opportunity to go to the ball and meet the Prince (Richard Madden).

After Maleficent last year, I was done getting excited over live-action remakes of classic Disney movies, mostly because that film highlighted that these kinds of film aren't aiming to rekindle the magic of its predecessor but instead, bring darkness and edginess to the Disney world, which is incredibly dumb. Thankfully, Cinderella isn't like that.

Director Kenneth Branagh succeeds in updating and modernizing this fairy tale while also keeping in tune with what made the original work so well to begin with. Unlike Maleficent, where they completely disregard its roots and opt to focus on the story "from another point of view", this film playfully adapts its source material, showing much love and appreciation for the classic work but also the willingness to expand upon it.

Through new backstory, we're given insight as to why Cinderella chooses to stay with her Evil Stepmother and why she is the courageous and kind person that she is known to be. We're also given a Prince that actually has some character. During the added scene of Cinderella meeting the Prince in the woods, we're shown that neither Cinderella nor the Prince wanted to be admired for their titles, but instead, who they are on the inside, which would be keeping in line with the message of the first film, albeit done more efficiently. 

Mostly everyone does a good job in their respective roles, but Lilly James and Richard Madden really stand out with their chemistry together and their individual character's charm. We're not introduced to action heroine Cinderella (like Kristen Stewart's Snow White or Mia Wasikowska's Alice), and we didn't need to be. The character completely stands strongly on her own, and Kenneth Branagh does an excellent job recapturing the magic and charm the Disney classic brought, while also
adding some Downton Abbey-esque elegance to it.

If I had to note one flaw of the film, it'd be Cate Blanchett's portrayal of the Evil Stepmother. I'm quite shocked that I didn't like her performance, for I predicted she'd steal the movie while Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy God Mother would end up the oddball. However, that didn't end up being the case.

I've always known the Evil Stepmother to be a woman who uses her elegance to shroud her truly dark and evil nature. Our first introduction to Blanchett's portrayal made it look like that was going to be the case for this film, but Blanchett would go back and forth between the cruel, elegant stepmother and the obnoxious, flamboyant madame numerous times throughout the film. It felt very inconsistent, and I would've preferred her to just stick to the more toned down (yet equally as powerful) performance rather her act as animated as the step-sisters. 

That'd have to be the only flaw I had with the film, and it was far from being unpleasant to watch. Blanchett still disappeared into the character.

Branagh brings all the magic and charm of classic Disney to a live-action modernized telling of Cinderella, and it manages to incorporate all the fundamentals of the original film while also improving upon its shortcomings. Lilly James and Richard Manning are great in it and it's extremely fun, so you'll definitely have a ball with it. 


Be sure to check out my review of another Disney classic, Mulan, on Audiences Everywhere.