CGB Review of The Divergent Series: Allegiant (2016)

I’ll give the movie this: It did give me an opportunity to take a nice power nap.
I don’t think that’s a good sign.

This is my review of (yawns) The Divergent Series: Allegiant.

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So just like Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, as well as any film made by David O. Russell, this movie is hard to summarize.  Alas, I shall do my best.  Here goes nothing!

Beatrice “Tris” Prior (Shailene Woodley), her boyfriend Four/Tobias Eaton and their allies venture beyond the wall that barricades dystopian Chicago.   After wandering the barren wasteland that looks eerily similar to the Scorch in Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, Tris and company are picked up by the–hold on, I’ve already forgotten what it’s called–(looks up the movie online)–the Bureau of Genetic Welfare.  Tris meets David (Jeff Daniels), the Bureau’s director and the two form a camaraderie.  David tells Tris that there are two groups of people: The genetically Pure and the genetically Damaged; Tris is the ONLY one who is genetically Pure and David wants to discover “what made her” so that they can use that information to heal the genes of the Damaged.  However, things go awry when Tris discovers that all is not as it seems at the Bureau and we’re off to the races.

(Rubs forehead) Clearly neither Divergent author Veronica Roth nor the filmmakers understand how DNA works.

The Hits
When compared to the last film in the Divergent franchise, Insurgent, Allegiant is slightly better.  The first five minutes of the movie are interesting and show some promise.
I do like the interactions between Tris and David.   Like Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies, Jeff Daniels is the kind of guy who could pull off a Keyser Soze-esque villain.  He has an eerily calm and collective demeanor that is both comforting and unsettling; that guy who would offer you a cup of hot chocolate and then smile coldly as he watches you die from the rat poison that was in the drink.
Miles Teller is the only person having any kind of fun with this flick.  He steals every scene he is in and livens the uber-seriousness of the premise.  The movie wants us to hate him, but I’d much rather have him be our main protagonist.  Lovable jerks make for far more interesting characters.

The Misses
The CGI is laughable, particularly the plasma bubbles that the characters are put in when they are found by the Bureau.  The action sequences are filmed in shaky cam, so it’s hard to make out what is happening.
In Insurgent, Tris was kind of despicable, but at the very least I could describe her as something.  Here, she is as wooden and bland as the scorched terrain she traverses.  Shailene Woodley looks bored throughout the majority of the film.   It’s a pretty bad sign when I would much rather watch her be a toxic girlfriend to Four/Tobias than an uninteresting Messianic archetype.
Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who starts a sentence, but instead of finishing what they were saying, they move on to talking about something else?  That is what this movie is like.  Allegiant is a hodgepodge of ideas that would be engaging if they were thought out all the way through.  Even the rapport between Tris and David feels incomplete.  There was an idea for a deceptive relationship, but it does nothing to reveal the psychology of the two characters.  Then again, idea establishment has always been a problem in both the books and the films, so if it’s still a problem at this point in the franchise, chances are it’s too late to fix it for the next (and hopefully) final film in the series, Ascendant, which comes out next year.
I wasn’t kidding when I said that this movie allowed me to take a brief power nap.  Just like Bridge of Spies, Allegiant is also really, really boring.  Because the characters are underdeveloped and the world-building is sub par, there is nothing is connect to, nothing to get invested in.  Allegiant doesn’t work as a character-driven story because the main character (Tris) barely makes the cut as a two-dimensional person, let alone a three-dimensional one.  It also fails as a plot driven story because the story is riddled with half-baked concepts that never come full circle.

Even though it is somewhat better than the incoherent Insurgent, Allegiant is yet another sign that the Divergent film series is a flawed and broken franchise based off an equally dull book trilogy.  Sorry, Tris, but you’re no Katniss Everdeen.

Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, pray for us.

CGB Review of Whiplash (2014)

Were you rushing or were you dragging?

This is my review of Whiplash!

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Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) is an aspiring drummer determined to be the next Bernard “Buddy” Rich.  He gets his chance when he becomes a part of his school’s elite music conservatory, led by the volatile and sadistic Terrence Fletcher.  Driven by a grudging respect for Fletcher, Andrew pushes himself to the point of reckless passion as he wishes to earn his place as Fletcher’s drummer.
I just watched this movie an hour ago and I’m already eager to watch it again.  The simmering performances between Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons drive the kinetic story from beginning to end.

The Hits
When I was in high school, I remember listening to my brother practice on his guitar for hours, perfecting his craft until he could play any song just right.  In that aspect, I found this movie to be very relatable, given that I am not a musician myself.  Even though the film focuses solely on music, anyone who is involved in the arts (writing, music, painting, cooking, dancing, etc.,) will connect with Andrew’s struggle.
The rivalry between Andrew and Fletcher is as mesmerizing as Luke and Darth Vader.  That’s right; I went there.  Like the lightsaber duels throughout the original Star Wars trilogy, the drumming sequences are an internalization of the conflict between the characters.  Every scene between Andrew and Fletcher demonstrate Andrew’s desire to win his teacher’s admiration and Fletcher’s need to find a new prodigy to guide and claim as his own.
There’s also a very interesting contrast between Andrew’s relationship with his own father and his dysfunctional rapport with Fletcher.  Jim Neyman is kind but ineffectual, while Fletcher is temperamental but commanding.  The fact that Andrew seeks the attention of a domineering instructor while ignoring the gentle support of his own father speaks volumes about the young man’s need for a stronger male figure in his life.
Miles Teller needs to abandon the Divergent trilogy (and any Fantastic Four movies) and play more characters like Andrew Neyman.  Ambitious, cocky, and riddled with anxiety, the raging determination in Andrew’s eyes as the intensity of Fletcher’s abuse weighs down on his shoulders is conveyed by Teller’s gritty performance.
Let’s be honest: The real star is J.K. Simmons.  Holy cow, why isn’t he playing villains more often?  Simmons earned that Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.  An electric and terrifying dictator of a man who is equipped with a tongue sharper than the sword used to cut off the head of Anne Boleyn, Terrence Fletcher is a formidable foe.  His deep voice is already intimidating and once he starts berating Andrew and other characters, he becomes all the more frightening.  I like how when he first talks to Andrew, he is approachable and seems genuinely interested in Andrew’s backstory.  Then he uses what he knows about Andrew (such as Mrs. Neyman walking out on the family) to tear the young man down.  That is absolutely malicious.  By the second act, I froze up every time Fletcher was on screen.  In real life, this character would have me cowering in a corner, bawling my eyes out.  On screen, I couldn’t take my eyes off this scary man.  It is that great of a performance.

The Misses
The ending is a bit of an overkill.  I get that Andrew is using his drumming solo to tell Fletcher where to go, but it lasts for fifteen minutes and could have been shortened.
If you have ever been verbally abused, primarily by a teacher or mentor, this movie may be hard to watch.  I never want to deter anyone from watching a great film, but I also want to be respectful of readers would may have had traumatic experiences.

I adore Whiplash.  Miles Teller’s Andrew is connectable and sympathetic while J.K. Simmons’ Terrence Fletcher is as great a villain as Darth Vader, Captain Vidal (Pan’s Labyrinth) and Professor Radisson (God’s Not Dead).  The animosity between the two characters is a thrilling intrigue that carries the film with sound and fury.

Saint Genesius of Rome, pray for us.

CGB Review of The Fantastic Chore–I mean–Four

Pushing open the double doors, I looked up at the ceiling.  “Dear sweet Virgin Mary, Mother of God, please tell me: What in the wide world of heck did I just sit through?” I asked aloud as I stumbled out of Theater 10, tossing my now-empty soda cup into the trash.
The Blessed Mother didn’t answer, but if she had, she probably would’ve answered in a gentle voice, “A very crummy movie, my dear.”

This is my review of the Fantastic Four!

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The Fantastic Four tells the story of four young adults who are brilliant in the field of science.  Now I’m aware that this movie is based on the…(looks at info sheet)…the Ultimate Fantastic Four comic book, which debuted in 2004.   In previous incarnations of the “First Family of Comics,” as they are called, the Fantastic Four get their powers via space travel.  However in this version, it is inter-dimensional travel that graces them with their supernatural abilities.

So it’s exactly 1:16 am and I’m very tired.  However I’m not going to be like the makers of this corporately-mandated movie and give you a half-baked review; I’m going to use the last of my energy to tell you that this is one of the most passionless movies I have ever seen.  Just like Aloha, Pup, Christian Mingle the Movie, Last Ounce of Courage and Bad Teacher, I have absolutely nothing good to say about Fant4stic Four.
Here is everything wrong with The Fant4stic Four!

What the heck is up with the stiff and wooden line-delivery in this film?  If you were telling someone about a project that you’ve spent years of your life working on, you wouldn’t say it in a flat voice and with no emotion, but that’s exactly what happens in this film.  The biggest offenders are the kid who plays young Reed Richards, Reg. E Cathey (Dr. Franklin Storm), Miles Teller, and Kate Mara.
Okay, I’m going to give Ms. Mara a break because I know that she was verbally abused by director Josh Trank, which could explain her drained and tired performance as Sue Storm.  That being said, an explanation is not an excuse for her detached acting.
Miles Teller, who was the only entertaining part in The Divergent Series: Insurgent, is completely neutered as Reed Richards.  He sounds totally bored every time he speaks.  When he does try to inject some life into his character, it comes off as forced and awkward.
Reg. E Cathey annoyed me.  He’s got a cool gravely voice, but man, he is a drag to listen to.  He does have one good scene with Michael B. Jordan where he actually makes a sincere effort to act, but for the rest of the movie, he is devoid of emotion and is practically sleepwalking his way to a paycheck.
The only actors who are even trying are Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell and Toby Kebbell, but even they become victims of the movie’s biggest problems.
Fant4stic Four has a major character development issue.  Personalities of characters will literally switch in a matter of minutes.  Jamie Bell will be the cautious one and Michael B. Jordan is the risk-taker, but then in another scene, Jordan is all, “No way, let’s not do that” and Bell is the one walking into a risky situation.  One minute, Kebbell is looking out for himself and Teller is the moral one, and then in the next minute, Teller is the self-serving opportunist while Kebbell is pulling back.
We’re supposed to believe that Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny are this family unit who would go through hell and back for each other.  If that’s the case, then this movie does nothing to prove it.  Reed and Ben feel more like acquaintances instead of childhood friends, the “romance” between Reed and Sue is contrived as all heck, Sue being the adoptive daughter of Dr. Franklin Storm is slapped-on and has no presence within the character and her relationship with her half-brother Johnny (Franklin’s biological son) is nonexistent.  Because little thought was put into developing the characters as people, their decisions feel like demands of the script and not organic choices that they would willingly make and their relationship with each other lacks authenticity and heart.
One more thing: Yes, the rumors are true.  The first act is drunk on tolerably bland build-up.  The second/third act of this movie is insufferable and a half-hearted final battle with Dr. Doom is the nail in the coffin.

Overall I tried to keep an open mind with this movie and my brain fell out as a result.  It is now 2 am and I wish you all good night…until my next review.  🙂

“If I speak in human or angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”
–1 Corinthians 13:13

Update: Check out this video on the troubled production of this film, which is actually more interesting than the film itself.