December 21, 2014

Divergent (2014)

Shailene Woodley, Ashley Judd, Kate Winslet and what James Franco and Chris Pine's baby would look like with huge lips

I've been dying to see this move. Not because it looked good, but because I wanted to talk about how annoyed I am about Shailene Woodley popping up in what seems like every movie nowadays. She's like a teenage Jennifer Lawrence. (And yes, I realize she's in her 20's, but her face and her acting make her seem like she's about 16.) I don't like her. I can't quite put my finger on why, but I just don't like her. She did a decent job in The Descendants, but there, she was a supporting character who mostly just made pouty teenage faces the whole time. So I guess she's good at that.

What she is not good at, however, is convincing me that she is an action star. Look, I get that Hollywood needs to mix things up. And I appreciate their willingness to experiment in casting to try and diversify the pool of predictable action heroes. I even love that this series stars a female action hero. And yet... not every experiment goes well. Look at Toby Maguire as Spiderman (or Andrew Garfield as Spiderman, for that matter) or Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Looper. Shailene Woodley is not the next female action star. (Though that won't stop the studios from making this three book series into a four movie blockbuster! Woo!)

Speaking of questionable casting... why is Miles Teller in this movie? And as a bad guy? Talk about unconvincing! Add to that the fact that three other guys in the movie looked vaguely like him and the fast action sequences shot in dark settings and it was difficult to tell who was who. It just added an unnecessary layer of false complexity to this movie, which was already trying really hard to be deep.

It's just really hard to watch this movie and not think "B-Squad Hunger Games." I know I probably think that because I happened to read The Hunger Games first, but the whole 'dystopian society with factions ruled by a ruthless leader' thing is really overplayed now. I didn't get around to reading the Divergent series, but if this movie is any reflection of them, I think I'm better for having skipped them. I mean, if I thought the characters in The Hunger Games were underdeveloped and miscast...

The plot hurts my head. It really does. Completely ignoring the giant, gaping plot holes, the entire first half of the movie reads like a high school drama that happens to have guns. I mean, how does it even make sense that you cannot interact with anyone outside of your faction? How are we supposed to believe that the vast majority of people are so one-dimensional that they easily conform to their faction? Is the author really telling us that at our core, we are only one thing: honest or smart or fearless or giving? Why do the people in Dauntless need to run to everything? Is it really necessary that the train never stop so they have to run/jump to get on and off of it? And what's with all the ridiculous initiation rituals? Why would it make sense for a "harmonious society" to purposely kick people out of Dauntless, making them faction-less, then turn around and have to patrol these same people? I mean, it's hard to even take the "leader" of Dauntless seriously because he is such a caricature of what a bad guy would look like. I'm sure the other factions are equally ridiculous, but we wouldn't know because they are basically never shown. I realize this partially violates my ethics of not giving anything away in a movie, but I'm pretty confident if you watched the trailer you'd already know what was going to happen.

The second half of the movie does stop being quite so ridiculous and becomes more of a regular, predictable action movie. And while both the acting and plot are painful, it's still semi-enjoyable to watch because there is so much action happening (even though much of the action is questionable as to why it's necessary). 

Final word: [trying to keep a straight face] The world definitely needs 4 of these movies.

December 16, 2014

The Other Woman (2014)

Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, Kate Upton

I recently read a book that quoted the catchphrase, "embrace the suck." This movie is sort of like that.
Going in, it's not like anyone thinks it's going to be Oscar bait. I mean, Kate Upton is actually named on the movie poster as one of the stars. Nicki Minaj is in the movie. As an actress. And yet, I still came out feeling disappointed somehow. I think Cameron Diaz just has that effect. (Ahem, Sex Tape, Knight and Day, The Holiday, Bad Teacher.... shall I go on?) So I guess to enjoy this movie, you really have to be able to embrace its inherent suckiness.

Just try and convince me this is what women
do and not what men hope we do.
I am a strong advocate for more female-led movies, but this movie felt like it was made by a man, for women. I mean sure, it's pretending to embrace female empowerment by having them exact revenge on a man and by having them actually befriend each other instead of compete, but why play into stereotypes of having Leslie Mann constantly frazzled, whiny, and out of control? Why have the women comment on how hot the other women are? Frankly, it all felt like a portrayal of what a man would imagine women would do in that situation, rather than what they would actually do. (And yes, I realize the screenplay was written by a woman, making this all the more pathetic.)

In some ways, I almost feel badly for being so hard on the movie because again, it's not like any rational person could sit down to watch this movie and think it was going to be good. But it was just so reminiscent of The First Wives Club, but done badly, that it hurt. I mean, when a thirty-something can relate more to Diane Keaton and Better Midler than Cameron Diaz and Leslie Mann, I think perhaps something is wrong.

Of course, there were a few amusing parts. Kate Upton managed to not be the worst actor in the movie (that honor goes to the fake Harry Connick Jr. who played the cheating husband). And I think Leslie Mann did a good job with what she was asked to do, but her ridiculous over-the-top antics pushed the movie from average lame to almost offensively so. (Though I'm shifting blame from her to what I imagine her character was supposed act like, which is really the root of the problem). And the ending? I kept hoping it was one of those "alternative imagined endings" like in Wayne's World because it was so stupid. But I suppose it was just keeping with the theme of the rest of the movie.

Final word: Feels like it was made for men, except that no man would want to watch this.

December 9, 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part I (2014)

Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson

First of all, I would just like to say that every movie theater should convert their seats to leather recliners ASAP. I watched this movie in a piece of furniture more comfortable than my own couch and didn't feel the least grossed out about the fact that likely hundred of people had cozied up in my exact spot before me (probably with their shoes off too). If that's not a successful movie outing, I don't know what is.

The leather recliners really helped boost my anticipation of the movie, considering this book was the worst of the three in a series that had already shown how bad its movies could be. But in light of recent events (the Ebola outbreak, Ferguson), this movie suddenly seemed relevant and exciting and not just the Hunger Games book without the actual Hunger Games.

However, I was distracted by several things:

1. Watching Liam Hemsworth and constantly thinking about John Oliver's rant against Chris Hemsworth being named 'People's Sexiest Man Alive' stating, "He's not even the sexiest Hemsworth brother!" I debated this assertion in my head throughout the movie. I still haven't come to a conclusion.

2. The convincing reality of Jennifer Lawrence's wig. And the fact that this movie kept trying to show Katniss' evolution as a person by having her wear her hair down instead of in the "trademark" side braid, which frankly, didn't look great. Some people were just meant to wear their hair up.

3. The complete lack of an authentic relationship between Katniss and her sister. I know the book doesn't exactly give a lot to work with and it's not possible to just cut her character out since she serves as the catalyst for this whole series, but seeing Jennifer Lawrence suddenly call her "little duck" while cuddled in bed during the four times they interact the entire movie feels disjointed and awkward.

4. The horrendous North Korea-esque uniforms of District 13.

5. The long and slow pans of scenery that were likely employed to eat up time so that this could be long enough to be considered a movie in its own right, even with little action because that's all being saved for Part II. 

But on a high note, the-most-miscast-actor-in-recent-memory (aka Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark) was again noticeably absent from this movie. I was almost impressed with the extreme weight loss he pulled off, until I Googled it and found out it was just CGI. He can't even do that right. Sigh.

Final word: It would have been a lot better had it been just one movie.