Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Review - Divergent (2014)

If there's one kind of movie that really bothers me, it's a movie that doesn't make much sense.  And I'm not talking about a suspension of disbelief, where I go "Flying cars using refrigerator magnets?  That's impossible!"  No, I'm talking about movies that put forth a set of beliefs, then violate those very beliefs at some point in the movie, thereby not only confusing the people that are watching, but making the characters look like complete and utter morons.

Divergent (2014) isn't the best example of this, but the ending sort of puts it firmly in this category.  But let me sum up the movie, first.  In a post-apocalyptic future, where a great wall is built to keep out "something," someone decided to separate the types of people into various classes based on their personalities.  This was somehow supposed to put an end to war.  There were Erudites, the intelligent ones, the Abengation class, the selfless ones who ruled out of a sense of service to the community, and the Dauntless, the police and soldiers, the protectors of the other classes.  There were a couple other classes too, but they aren't really important.  So Beatrice, whose parents are in the government (abnegation) class, finds out she is Divergent, which means she basically doesn't fit into any one class.  Divergency is apparently bad because if you don't fit into the class system, you threaten the very foundation of the system.  So the Erudites are ferreting out the Divergents that pop up from time to time, and the Dauntless class goes and basically executes them, because different is bad.  Bear with me, here, I know it sounds stupid already, but this is the premise.  So Beatrice decides to join the Dauntless class, which is considered a bold move.  Nobody knows she's Divergent, but during her training it starts to peek out, and then she's worried she's going to get killed because of what she is.  And THEN, she finds out that the Erudite class is going to kill off the Abnegation class because they think they are doing a bad job running the system, and they could do a better one.  Shit!  What's a girl to do?

Okay, let me just get the better points of the movie out of the way first before i explain why this movie conflicts with itself.  First off, the acting was fair.  They were mostly people I had never heard of, but Ashley Judd was in there as beatrice's mom.  I think Ashley Judd's a pretty decent actress and I'd like to see her do more movies, personally.  She's easy on the eyes, too, but that has nothing to do with her acting talent.  Kate Winslet was the villain, and it's always nice to see a female villain, but I don't think she knocked the role out of the park or anything.  Maggie Q and Zoe Kravitz pop up in there but they don't have more than a little screen time.  The rest of the cast was sort of wooden and blah-y.  Jai Courtney, who i have seen before but never put a name to until now (he was also Bruce Willis' son in A Good Day to Die Hard), was actually pretty good as the Erudite's flunky in the Dauntless Class.  The special effects were, well, nonexistent, really.  There were a few computer monitor things that looked kind of cool, but other than that, I don't think there were any special effects in this film other than trying to make the actors look like they were actually doing physical stunts.  The fight scenes actually looked pretty ridiculous, except they did show some blood and bruising and how really, fights are generally pretty one-sided.  So that much at least was fairly realistic, even if the fighters didn't make it look very good.

On the bad side, there was no nudity and no real effort at trying to make things look seductive.  Supposedly beatrice and some other divergent get a little steamy but I didn't feel any chemistry there at all.  It's usually a bad sign when a movie comes out at the beginning of the year and is already on Cable TV by the end of the same year.  We never actually find out why the wall was built, or what's out there to require the necessity of the wall.  The fight scenes weren't very long or exciting, and the stances they used looked absolutely ridiculous.  I don't know if they were taken from some real and deadly martial art, and I don't care, because they looked silly.  They did a bad job of making me care about the characters.  The only person who seemed to show some real emotion was Ashley Judd, playing Beatrice's mom.  I don't know if Ashley just can do the facial expressions right, and everyone else in the cast just has no idea, or the rest of the cast was trying to play emotionless drones, but I didn't care about much of the rest of the cast at all.  And now, let's get to the root of the biggest problem with the movie.

The Ending.  Spoilers to follow, so if you actually want to watch this movie on HBO or something (where i saw it), then skip this paragraph.  So, Tris (Beatrice) finds out that Erudite is going to mind-control the majority of the dauntless class to make them kill off the abnegation class (where her parents are part of the ruling system) and then take control of the government.  Now, here's where i see a problem.  One, the Erudite in charge should realize that by destroying an entire class, she is, in fact, proving herself unfit to rule the class system.  I mean, isn't that the whole point of begin Erudite?  You KNOW what an idiot you are?  I guess not.  Two, and this gives away the bad ending to a bad movie, Tris and friends manage to defeat the Erudite in charge, stop the mind control, and then....  they run away.  Leaving the villain alive.  Leaving the Erudite Class still in charge of the whole situation.  Leaving almost the entire Abnegation class in peril.  Nope, just run away!  Forget the fact that you just saved the entire dauntless class from killing off the abnegation class, forget the fact that a dauntless NEVER RUNS AWAY, which they DRILL into Tris from the beginning of her training.  Nope, just run away!  Forget the fact that the good dauntless now totally outnumber the BAD dauntless, and could have easily overwhelmed them, saved the class system, killed off the bad guys, and set things to right.  Shit, the bad dauntless weren't even in the room when the ending of the movie went down.  Tris could have killed the villainess right then and there (and supposedly had no problem killing people earlier in the movie, so why now?), saved everyone and everybody, and had backup from 2/3rds of the dauntless class.  Instead... they run away.  I don't get it.  They went through all that to stop the erudite class from taking over, and then they just leave the erudite class in charge, with the bad guy (or girl in this case) still alive, with the entire abnegation class still in peril, and run away, which is totally against the dauntless code of ethics.  Why?  Doesn't that just make the whole movie contradictory?  The character's decisions make absolutely no sense, from the movie's own point of view.  Just kill the damn bad guy like the dauntless (which tris now is) are trained to do, call for help from the entire class of people who are trained to keep shit like this from happening in the first place, and kill off the idiots who were supporting the Erudite class in the first place, like she was trained to do.  Problem solved, everybody wins, and she's a hero.  Instead, she runs away, because... movie ending.  (shrug)  I got nothing.

See, movies like this just bug me.  I spend an hour and a half suspending my disbelief so I can enjoy a movie, and the movie takes my suspension of disbelief and slaps me in the face with it like an arrogant John slaps a two-dollar whore in the face with his penis after he's given her a facial, and I'm not even getting paid for it.  Pisses me off that a movie is going to dick me around like that, when some script guy can't even look over his own writing and go WTF THIS SHIT DON'T EVEN MAKE SENSE TO ME AND I WROTE IT!  Where's the editing?  Proofreading?  Damn, buddy, hand me the goddamn script, I'll read through it, look at you like you're crazy, hand it back to you, and tell you to do it over.  And I'll tell you for free, just so I don't have to sit through that kind of inane bullshit again.  Go ahead, I dare you!  Send me the script!

Pfeh.  So, wasn't very fond of that movie.  I wouldn't even say watch it once, because there's really nothing redeeming the movie, and Ashley Judd, despite her skill as an actress, and the other bits of talent popping up here and there, aren't on-screen very long.  Mostly it's just Tris getting her ass kicked over and over and calling it "Divergent," because "Weak and Cowardly" didn't sound like good words to apply to the heroine.  What a pile of tripe.  Skip Divergent, and hope to hell they don't make a sequel.

That's all for this week.  Hope everyone has a nice Xmas and merry Yule and zonky feast of Saturnalia or whatever it is you celebrate this time of year.  Me, I'm just happy to get presents I didn't have to pay for, and food I didn't have to cook for myself.  Plus, the shiny glittery blinky lights look damn pretty.  Don't forget, godzilla marathon on El Rey network starting at 6 pm xmas eve!  Three days of giant monster movies!  Sweaty japanese guys in rubber suits, wrecking tiny buildings!  Actors pointing up at the air and going GOJIRA! and running away by the thousands.  I wonder how much they pay the extras to just turn and run on cue?  Or is it just that they announce there's a godzilla movie being filmed and everyone flees the camera just so they aren't in it?  it would save a lot of money on the extras.  oh well.  Catch you guys next week, and if not, Happy New Year, Feliz Ano Nuevo, and all that other good stuff!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Movie Review - 47 Ronin (2013)

I can't say I'm all that big a fan of Keanu Reeves.  In fact, I think he's pretty good as a stoner, kind of walking around half-dazed and confused most of the time like he was in Bill and Ted's excellent adventure.  I'm not really sure where he picked up his interest in Martial arts films, or maybe he's just spent too long in the Matrix, I don't know.

47 Ronin (2013) is an old Japanese story about some masterless Samurai during a period in Japanese history when they had a Shogun running the country.  This take on the tale of the 47 Ronin (there have been a number of movies made about this legend over the years, none of which I have seen besides this one) begins with Kai, a young boy running away from something.  Kai is a half-breed, a mixed white and japanese boy, and if there's one thing the japanese do not like, it is anyone of mixed race (personally I think people of mixed races seem more attractive than most, but that's just my opinion).  Kai is found by a hunting party of Lord Asano, the Lord of the province where Kai ends up, and instead of killing Kai outright, Lord Asano takes him in.  As the years go by, Kai and Lord Asano's daughter form a bond of love, and then, one day, the Shogun visits.  Aside from hosting a visit from the Shogun, Lord Asano is also hosting a visit from a neighboring Lord, Lord Kira.  Lord Kira (the villain, obviously) employs a witch to subvert Lord Asano's mind and make Asano attempt to strike Kira in the presence of the Shogun, an act punishable by death.  Fortunately, the Shogun allows Lord Asano to commit seppuku (ritual disembowelment), and thus retain his honor.  However, his most loyal Samurai are cast out by the Shogun, and become Ronin.  Lord Kira does his best to break the will of Kai by taking Asano's daughter as wife, and leaves the leader of the Samurai, Oishi, in a hole for a year.  Just before Lord Kira is to marry the unwilling daughter of Lord Asano, Oishi and Kai team up with the remaining 45 Ronin and strike back at Lord Kira, intending to avenge the death of their lord at all costs!

I've been a huge fan of ancient Japanese culture for years.  I was going to say I was a big fan of japanese culture in general, but I can't fathom some of their idiosyncrasies, like for instance, used panty vending machines?  Really?  I don't get it.  The upskirt pic thing, totally.  That I get.  The used panty vending machines...  nope.  So, I'm restricting my interest in japan to their ancient past, when they had shoguns and ninjas and samural wandering the lands, just waiting for someone to impugn their honor so they could kill somebody.  Maybe they were just really cranky from having to wear dresses all the time.  Who knows?

The acting in this movie was pretty decent, if you exclude Keanu Reeves.  Basically, this movie takes the really cool Japanese legend of some guys who would rather die than let a crime go unpunished, and adds Keanu reeves, witches and monsters into the mix.  If you take out Keanu, and leave the monsters and the witch, this movie is actually pretty kick-ass.  The special effects were good, the swordplay was decent, and the veteran asian acting cast was superb.  The only guy I knew for sure was Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa as the Shogun, who has been acting as the asian bad guy in movies since the 80's, but many of the other faces were recognizable, even if I couldn't pronounce their names correctly to save my life.  The only other Japanese actor I can pick out of the cast is Hiroyuki Sanada, who appeared in Helix (that I watched earlier this year).  At this point, I would beg forgiveness for having dishonored the rest of the cast's acting skill by not remembering their names, but seriously, they're actors, not samurai.  I think I'll be okay.

I don't recall any overt nudity, but there's some scenes between the witch and Lord Asano's daughter that almost stray into lesbian territory, and frankly, my little Samurai sword was ready to cut silk, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.  There's a few funny scenes, and the rest of the movie is pretty much a showcase for keanu's ability to act like a martial artist.  If you believe that, the movie works okay.  If you don't, then it really doesn't work as well.  Frankly, it reminds me of Tom Cruise's attempt to do something similar, when he did The Last Samurai.  If you can't believe the main character in the movie, then the whole movie just kind of falls flat, you know?  (shrugs)

I'd say, give 47 Ronin a viewing on Netflix if you have some spare time and love Japanese samurai flicks, because this movie does dip slightly into the concept of honor and duty, two things that were of paramount importance to ancient Samurai.  As a westerner, I have a hard time agreeing with the concept, but that doesn't make it any less pretty to watch.  As far as a repeat viewing goes, I don't think I need to see this one again.

In other news, I missed last week's post because I was struggling with the flu.  It is that time of year, as well as it being the Holidays.  So, just in case I don't make it next week either, Happy Holidays to everybody out there.  :-D  If you're looking for holiday favorites, Netflix has lost the rights to show Christmas Vacation this season, but ABC Family Channel is playing it every few days.  Netflix still has Kung Fu Panda Holiday, one of my new favorite holiday cartoons, so at least they have that, and Christmas with the Kranks last time I checked.  Some fun things to look out for this holiday season, if you happen to be home alone for the holidays and have some time to kill, there's a few things you might enjoy.  El Rey network has a three-day Godzilla movie (kaiju, they call it, monster movies, I guess?) marathon starting at 6 pm Xmas eve, which I will try to watch as much of as possible, barring sleep and, well, you know, Christmas and all.  Also, at 1 pm Christmas day, Cary Elwes hosts a Princess Bride marathon (I forget which channel it's on), with behind-the-scenes stories about the movie.  Personally, I find it inconceivable that Cary Elwes has the time to spend hosting anything, considering how popular he was after the Princess Bride came out, but I guess movie roles are getting harder to come by lately.

If you're looking for a good game to purchase for the holidays, I can't really recommend anything with any degree of certainty.  I have an expansion to Mount and Blade: Warband on my xmas list, Viking Conquest, I believe it's called.  Once they added gunpowder to the series (Fire and Sword), the whole thing just fell apart, because they had some pretty decent hand-to-hand combat mechanics in the game, and putting guns in just ruined everything.  Viking Conquest is for the Mount and Blade portion, so that's before the invention of gunpowder, so I'm hoping there's no guns in it.  I can't say whether it's any good or not, but I guess we'll find out.  Other than that, the gaming landscape for the pre-Christmas buying time looks pretty bleak.  I find myself returning to Minecraft just to pass the hours.  The lonely, boring hours.  And winter hasn't even got here yet.  Sheesh.

That's all for tonight.  Hope to sneak a review in next week, but if not, Merry Yuletide and Happy New Year!  :-)