Divergent (2014)

Divergent...Released: March 21, 2014. Directed by: Neil Burger. Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd. Runtime: 139 min.

Timing’s an important thing to consider when releasing any movie. With Divergent, one must consider if we truly need another post-apocalyptic YA novel adaptation while The Hunger Games still reigns supreme. I think it makes it easier to compare them, even though they’d still be compared if this were released after Hunger Games concludes its franchise. Perhaps by 2015, this wouldn’t be as successful – it seems people are already feeling fatigued from all of these post-apocalyptic young adult novel adaptations.

Divergent follows Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) whose identity crisis begins when she learns she’s a Divergent, which are members of society who don’t fit into the five factions of this dysoptian Chicago. They threaten society because they’re impossible to control. The film is basically about how Tris is going to fit into society, and she has to pick a faction to become a functioning member of society. She chooses Dauntless, and meets her mysterious boy toy Four (Theo James), and together they must find out the secret of Divergent’s before it’s too late.

Now, I’ll briefly describe the factions. The Amity are farmers who portray kindness. The Abnegation (Tris’ faction of origin) the governing faction, portray the trait of selflessness. Thinking of them Amish, since they don’t believe in vanity, might be a good way to remember them. The Erudite’s trait is intelligence, represented by Kate Winslet’s character. The Candor are brutally honest people who say whatever’s on their minds, so I call this faction the No Lawyers Allowed club (geddit?). The Dauntless, the faction Tris chooses, work as the police force – and their trait is bravery. I think of them as major adrenaline junkies. It’s funny that we’re already seeing Divergent personality tests across the web. (Apparently, I belong in Abnegation or Erudite.)

Anyway, the government believes that by dividing people into factions they will be easier to control, because they can only obtain one basic personality trait and do what job best suits them. The government doesn’t allow them to exercise free-will, either. I think it’s better portray all personality traits, but that’s a no-no, apparently. A lot of this film goes against basic human nature, especially the ‘faction before blood’ mindset. Screw that – my family comes first. The film brings about themes of fear, conformity and individuality, and the writers’ thoughts about these themes are mildly intriguing.

Divergents are also threatening because, since fear wakes them up, they’re a threat. I like the idea the idea of how one must choose their path at an early age (Tris and her brother choose the same day, so it seems it’s between 18 and 21 years old), no takesies backsies, even if they grow as people and change. (A single drop of their blood drops into the faction bowl of their choosing, so that’s official.) Do you choose to stay in your own faction and stay with your family or part ways? Do you really know your true identity at 18 years old? That’s one of the film’s most fascinating aspects, and the most compelling idea the film has. Though, The Lego Movie is a better exploration of conformity out of 2014 films.

I think this would be a good time to get the inevitable comparisons to The Hunger Games out of the way. I think this film’s Divergent member of society is “Hunger Games‘ Mockingjay. Both of these films are essentially about dysoptian futures and overthrowing the government. I think Tris Prior is a more likable protagonist than Katniss Everdeen, but not a stronger character overall.

Katniss is great, but too Condor-ish to be completely likable. Then again, that’s the point but it makes it so much greater when she shows her vulnerable side. Tris is a good character who stands up for her beliefs and other people, which sometimes brings attention to her when she’s trying to show that she’s someone in society who isn’t hard to control. Woodley portrays her well and heart-warmingly in a few scenes. I think her bravery’s admirable, and I’m curious to see how some of her decisions affect her in the sequels. Woodley, a dynamic actress, has a lot of personality. It seems to me that a challenge for her as an actress would be to be antagonized by a character portrayed by Miles Teller (playing yet another douche), who she has a close friendship with – and was his romantic interest in last year’s “The Spectacular Now.” She seems honestly hurt by some of the things she says, and I like that vulnerability.

As for Theo James’ Four, the character is described as “mysterious” but it feels more like “he’s mysterious because he’s under-developed.” James is forgettable in his role, and his character isn’t anything special. I think the chemistry shared between him and Woodley is believable, but he’s not that great. He’s just there because of the way he looks, sorry for being too much of a Condor with that one. Everyone’s pretty well-cast, from Ashley Judd to Ansel Elgort, but it seems that a lot of these actors just have so little screen time, especially Maggie Q who just gives Tris a tattoo and monitors the dream tests. One antagonizing character is Jai Courtney, who just takes pleasure in bossing people around as a trainer in the Dauntless faction, but he’ll get on your nerves after awhile. So much time is spent in training to be a Dauntless that there’s not much time for anything else. This is really just an initiation film to introduce the characters. I assume the fact that they only foreshadow that there’s something lurking outside the city’s walls suggests they will explore it further in the sequels.

I think the finale is underwhelming, but Neil Burger (who doesn’t bring much style to the film) really does direct the action-packed finale well. Throughout the film, there are a lot of dream sequences, and there’s a serum that allows one’s images in their head to be portrayed on a monitor; I want that serum, because I’d love to rewatch my dreams. There’s another futuristic invention where it doesn’t hurt to get a tattoo, so since I don’t like pain that’d be nice – I could get the Bugs Bunny tattoo I’ve always wanted. There’s a very fun game of Capture the Flag with guns that simulate the pain of real bullets (it makes me think of that paintball version of CTF in Child’s Play 3) and a crazy zip-lining sequence that enables some great imagery and cinematography to take place. The score also fits the film like a glove. Technically speaking, this all looks great – and it’s epic in scale – but only a stern pretty good in many other aspects.

Score63/100

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That Awkward Moment (2014)

That Awkward MomentReleased: January 31, 2014. Directed by: Tom Gormican. Starring: Zac Efron, Michael B. Jordan, Miles Teller. Runtime: 94 min.

“That Awkward Moment” is a film about relationships. Its title derives from the film’s idea that in every relationship, there is a moment where one of the partners asks “Where is this going?” Often times, that moment can be awkward; but not when the guy already knows the answer. The film presents the idea that, when the moment comes, just get out of that relationship. Because, you know, screw comittment! Casual sex takes precedence! Go to bars, meet women, and build up a roster, so you can have sex every day of the week with a different woman. Apparently, we’re becoming more and more polygamous. There’s nothing like a chick for every day of the week. It feels as if this film is designed in such a way, it might work better as a very short book of tips.

There is a story here. Jason (Zac Efron) is a young gun living in New York who is in the book and magazine cover designing business. His business partner is one of his best friends, Daniel (Miles Teller); and his other best friend, Mikey (Michael B. Jordan) is a doctor. Mikey is in his mid-20s and is getting divorced from his first wife, Vera (Jessica Lucas). It sounds pretty rough, considering how young he is. She’s cheating with a guy who looks like Morris Chestnut, no less. Who looks like Morris Chestnut?! Well, Morris Chestnut looks like Morris Chestnut; and apparently this guy does, too. Anyway, the basic story is that, in support of their best friend Mikey, they make a pact that they’re all going to stay single. Yeah. RIGHT. They’re all going to say no to love. As with every romantic comedy, they all pretty much set their eye on a woman simultaneously, and then don’t tell their friends about their intentions because they don’t want to back out on the pact. Jason likes a new girl in town fresh out of college, Ellie (Imogen Poots); Daniel begins to like his wing-woman Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis); and Mikey decides to give things a shot with Vera, again.

The film has so many ideas about dating, but they use mostly generic characters to depict it. The idea they didn’t portray, was that it’s probably never a good idea to have a girl as your wing-man, because you’re eventually going to think, as far as films teach people, “Hey… I don’t like this girl picking up other dudes; she should screw me, instead, out of respect!” Granted, it does seem like an okay idea at first.

One thing’s that funny is that the film only has enough awkward moments that you can count them on one hand. I won’t spoil them all, but they’re there. Jason confuses Ellie for a prostitute when they first meet, and then leaves because he doesn’t have money for a hooker (Poots would be one of those high-end $1000 an hour hookers, I think). Some awkward moments induce crude laughs, but only one or two that are memorable. Another awkward moment that the film depicts is the miscommunication with all the texting, because if one person says “We need to talk” in a text, the other might just have instant anxiety. Communication is key, folks.

One final awkward moment that I detected is the fact that all the women have sex with their clothes on. Well, Poots is naked but she has her comforter covering herself. Yet, both Teller and Efron show their butts. Boo! I want female skin! For Efron, this film might just be used for him as a gateway film for cruder things, perhaps he is preparing us for “Neighbors.” He swears, he gets nude, and he screws, but there’s still a romantic under all that cockiness. At least his sex scene here is less awkward than that one he shared with Taylor Schilling in “The Lucky One.” He’s a character afraid of comittment, because aren’t we all once in awhile? He also gets depicted as the biggest douche in the film in some ways, something Efron isn’t the strongest at playing, and it’s a role usually reserved for Teller (at least with my experience with his roles). Seeing him as a nicer guy than his roles in “21 and Over” and “Project X” with the ability to actually respect woman in a way, enables me to like him a bit more. A bit. I don’t think I’ll see the star potential until I watch “The Spectacular Now,” however.

The acting is natural for a film that has awkward in the title, and the cast is pretty good. I fell in love with Poots’ performance here, and her charming presence is welcome. She’s playing the most layered character of the movie, an independent woman meaning to land on her feet and get her life going in a big city. All the actors are talented to some degree (Michael B. Jordan especially; and Davis is a pleasant surprise for me), but they’re just working with a script that is heavy on the romantic aspect, but the laughs can be counted on two hands and they’re far between each other. Not good for a comedy!

Score50/100

21 and Over (2013)

21 and OverReleased: March 1, 2013. Directed by: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore. Starring: Miles Teller, Justin Chon, Skylar Astin. Runtime: 93 min.

Since I’m turning 19 today, I thought this would be an okay film for the occasion. I’m not turning 21 anytime soon, but the legal drinking age in Canada is 19 – and I don’t think there are any movies out there called “19 and Over, Eh?” This was on my PVR so I thought I’d give it a watch. Even though this is from the writers of “The Hangover,” it’s still a bit more like “Project X” – so that’s a misstep. At least this movie has a half-decent storyline and isn’t shot in the found footage format.

Jeff Chang (Justin Chon) is turning twenty-one years old, and two of his high school best pals, Miller (Miles Teller) and Casey (Skylar Astin) are hell-bent on giving him the night of his life, all on the eve of a big medical school interview. They take him out and show him a good time, just like they intended to do; but when Jeff passes out, neither Miller or Casey can remember his address to get him home. And his father is a total dick(tator), so if they don’t get him home in time, someone’s gonna get hurt real bad. The two friends go on a charade of finding someone who might know where Jeff lives, but it’s going to prove to be harder than they thought.

Friends are made during; Casey gets a love interest named Nicole (Sarah Wright), and an eccentric character called the Chief, who looks kind-of like Chris Elliot. Friendships are also in-genuinely tested. Ridiculous villains surface, like a person who Jeff accidentally hits with a dart; and a fraternity of Latin college girls, and how they become villains is somewhat amusing but predictable.

It’s a little bit disappointing that Jeff is passed out for a fair majority of the film, because he’s sorta funny while he’s drunk. The sight gag while he’s half-streaking is a little priceless. He has a bra on and a teddy bear glued to his privates. What happens later is a bit disturbing regarding that. It’s sort-of another sight gag taken out of the “Harold and Kumar” franchise’s handbook, and that isn’t the only thing. Jeff mirrors Kumar; they both have medical interviews the next day, and their dads play heavy influences in their lives to become doctors.

The film analyses the true stresses of university fairly well, and that’s something one doesn’t see very often in stupid college movies. And this movie is very stupid, too. It’s also disappointing that Jeff is passed out a lot, because he’s only likeable character in the movie (other than Nicole). You won’t be forgetting Chang’s any time soon, because Casey and Miller combined annoyingly say his name at least fifty times. They never say a simple ‘Jeff’, it’s always his full name. It would be a decent drinking game for people who want to get wasted  if you take a shot every time they say his name. Oddly enough, Casey or Miller don’t even have last names that get revealed to us!

I chuckled occasionally during, and laughed out loud probably about five or six times. (The first laugh-out-loud moment comes in the form of urination twenty-four minutes in.) But that isn’t enough to keep me satisfied during this film because the plot’s just very silly and a waste of time. Miller is occasionally racist and very unlikeable and he swears a lot, and there’s a running joke of him (a what, 21 or 22-year-old) where he wants to screw Casey’s sixteen-year-old sister. I don’t mind constant swearing in comedies – but it has to make me laugh or be occasionally amusing, but once a film just swears just to swear and the jokes constantly miss, it becomes bothersome.

Casey’s likeable sometimes but he still doesn’t treat his friend with much respect and I didn’t really care for him – the friendships just aren’t believable. Astin as Casey doesn’t have many memorable lines, and he is extremely bland. His performance in “Pitch Perfect” must have been a fluke because he is so boring here. Miller might be unlikeable because he doesn’t give a crap about Chang’s future because he forces him to go out that night, but he does have a few memorable lines. He’s one of those lazy characters that doesn’t apply himself. The character arcs are just lame.

The whole movie’s lame, really. At least “Project X” had a lot of boobs, this has three pairs and they’re all forgettable and very quick, but a funny spanking scene might just make up for it. There are lame bar montages and some disgusting sight gags, but the funny ones make up for one gross slow motion one. There’s a scene where the film shows some potential in a series of drinking games but the film falls flat again. Some occurrences don’t make sense and are just random to keep the film going. Anyway, If you liked “Project X”, you might like this, because it’s a bit stronger than that crappy party movie – but if you didn’t like that film, just avoid this one, too.

Score38/100