The Divergent Series: Insurgent
Adapted from Veronica Roth’s bestselling trilogy for young adults, Insurgent is a slickly engineered sequel that moves the dystopian narrative along at pace to a startling final revelation.
Robert Schwentke’s action-packed film crams its visual pyrotechnics into the climactic 30 minutes when Shailene Woodley’s heroine Tris must complete a series of tasks to prove that she possesses the qualities of all five factions: the selflessness of Abnegation, the courage of Dauntless, the honesty of Candor, the intelligence of Erudite and the inner peace of Amity.
These trials include a visually stunning race against time to rescue Tris’ mother (Ashley Judd) from a burning building that rotates as it ascends to the heavens and fisticuffs between the heroine and her diabolical doppelganger.
Woodley accomplishes these gymnastic feats with aplomb, but it’s during the film’s quieter moments that she truly excels.
In particular, a scene of unburdening facilitated by a truth serum is a tour-de-force of raw, tear-stained emotion that bodes well for the concluding chapter Allegiance, which will be released in two parts a la The Hunger Games.
When it comes to milking cash cows, Hollywood prefers them desiccated when the end credits roll.
Although it lacks the sustained visceral thrills and sense of jeopardy that distinguished the first film, Insurgent confidently lays the groundwork for a fraught journey back to humanity.
While Woodley excels in every frame, many of her talented co-stars are underused, particularly Whiplash drummer boy Miles Teller and Ansel Elgort.
Theo James continues to brood with his shirt on or off, kindling pleasing sparks of on-screen chemistry with his leading lady.
Director Schwentke, who previously captained Jodie Foster in the airborne thriller Flightplan, safely pilots the sequel through a few moments of dramatic turbulence, knowing the best is yet to come.
Star Rating: 3½
RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 36%
Humans and cute aliens unite to save Earth in Tim Johnson’s entertaining but shamelessly contrived computer-animated adventure.
The new dog performing old tricks on the DreamWorks block, which previously housed Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda and How To Train Your Dragon, lacks the belly laughs and heart-breaking emotion of those films, but merrily rehashes elements from all three.
Thus the extra-terrestrial invaders discover they like to wave their hands in the air like they just don’t care to our music and the central duo discovers that self-sacrifice is an important part of friendship.
Johnson’s film has some solid gags and the colour palette is bright, although there are disappointingly few visual tricks up the animators’ sleeves to justify the increased ticket price for the 3D version.
In a neat piece of short-hand, the invaders turn out to be the extra-terrestrial equivalent of mood rings, changing colour to reflect their emotional state: yellow for fear, pink for love, red for anger, blue for sadness and green for dishonesty.
It’s a merchandiser’s dream and every parent’s nightmare: children begging for the same stuffed toy in multiple shades.
Based on the children’s book The True Meaning Of Smekday by Adam Rex, Home ticks all of the boxes, but does so without any obvious verve, originality or sense of urgency.
Parsons riffs on his nerdy character in The Big Bang Theory, while Rihanna lends her distinctive Barbadian tones to the plucky, pint-sized heroine.
She also has two songs on the soundtrack including the dance anthem Only Girl (In The World), which provides moments of unnecessary distraction as Tip talks over the top of the music.
At one point during the chase, Oh turns to Tip and screams, “This is not a sustainable friendship model!”
Johnson makes it work for 94 minutes, but only just.
Star Rating: 3/5
RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 36%
If there’s one image that unexpectedly lingers in Pierre Morel’s socially conscious yet gleefully violent film, it’s Sean Penn’s gym-toned torso.
On several occasions, the camera lingers on the Oscar-winning actor’s muscular frame: bent double over a sink staring melancholically into a steamy mirror; glistening with water under a shower; contorting on a surfboard to ride crashing waves.
We’re used to seeing Penn deliver incendiary performances in heavyweight dramas such 21 Grams, Mystic River and Milk, so to see him bulking up and following the lead of Liam Neeson, who worked with director Morel on Taken, is a shock.
On the surface, The Gunman seems to appeal to Penn’s outspoken political and social views: Pete Travis’ script lambasts western involvement in hostilities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is a rich source of gold and precious minerals.
However, every time the film threatens to prick consciences, the narrative puts away its moral compass and engineers another frenetic chase or running gun battle, including some bruising hand-to-hand combat that proves Penn has been training heavily with a fight choreographer when he isn’t pumping iron.
Based on the novel The Prone Gunman by Jean-Patrick Manchette, The Gunman is a slick action thriller about a man of violence, who discovers that he cannot turn his back on the past.
Penn is better than the script deserves, and Javier Bardem and the mercurial Mark Rylance are both wasted in two-dimensional roles, the latter delighted to swap combat gear for the sharply tailor suits of the boardroom.
“I went from killer to cashier – don’t tell anyone,” he giggles.
Morel orchestrates wanton destruction with typical bombast and brio, pausing only to let his brawny leading man take his bulletproof vest and slashed shirt off.
Star Rating: 2½
RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 20%
Jason Statham’s winding path to the big screen is certainly unorthodox: market stall holder, member of the British National Diving Squad, fashion model for French Connection, stubbled action man with a heart of gold.
Since his eye-catching debut in Guy Ritchie’s 1998 calling card Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, the English actor has carved out a lucrative niche from which he rarely strays.
On the surface, Wild Card is a perfect fit.
Adapted for the screen by William Goldman from his own novel, Simon West’s action thriller is punctuated by bone-crunching brawls that have become Statham’s trademark.
He disables a trio of thugs with a credit card and a glass ashtray, then slices, dices and eviscerates a larger group of heavies using a knife and spoon from a diner.
Fight choreographer Corey Yuen, who worked with Statham on The Transporter franchise, knows how to showcase the leading man at his brutish, muscular best.
Unfortunately for the actor’s ardent fans, these overblown displays of machismo are a fleeting distraction from the existential soul-searching that clutters Goldman’s fragmented script.
Wild Card gambles heavily on Statham’s ability to convey Nick’s inner torment... and loses.
Goldman’s prosaic dialogue laden with mid-life angst sounds hollow coming from a man who prefers to articulate his character’s emotions with his fists.
West is heavy-handed in his use of slow-motion during the frenetic fight scenes, but it’s understandable that he wants to artificially prolong these fleeting highs.
If Las Vegas is indeed a creeping virus, then his ham-fisted film is the antidote.
Star Rating: 2½
RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 26%
In Peter Barnes’ satirical play The Ruling Class, a paranoid schizophrenic, who believes he is God, is asked to justify his delusion.
“Simple,” replies the nobleman. “When I pray to Him, I find I’m talking to myself.”
We all hear voices: an internal monologue of wicked things we dare not say aloud, mantras of self-encouragement or heartfelt prayers.
Most of us ignore the hubbub or argue back.
In Marjane Satrapi’s bonkers and bloodthirsty black comedy, a shy factory worker with serious psychological issues projects his voices into the mouths of two pets: a foul-mouthed cat called Mr Whiskers and a king-hearted Bullmastiff called Bosco.
The man’s internal conflict and downward spiral into murderous delirium are visualised as a battle between these animals.
“Find someone, kill them and you’ll find out what it feels like to be truly alive,” hisses the sadistic kitty.
“We’re not like the pussy,” slobbers the dog, “we have morals.”
With its lurid fantasy sequences, Busby Berkeley-esque synchronised forklift trucks and adherence to romantic comedy tropes, The Voices initially passes itself off as a quirky portrait of a lonely man hungry for love.
It rapidly transpires that screenwriter Michael R Perry is diving into far darker waters, unmasking the central character as a serial killer, who distributes the dismembered remains of his victims between Tupperware containers.
Like its lead character, Satrapi’s film suffers from a personality disorder.
The director struggles to achieve smooth transitions between guffaws and gore, disrupting dramatic momentum with superfluous flashbacks to Jerry’s traumatic childhood.
The final act is particularly disjointed and lacks an emotional crescendo.
Ryan Reynolds delivers a committed performance that cleverly subverts his image as a handsome and charming hero but supporting cast, with the exception of Anna Kendrick, are poorly served.
Listen to that nagging voice in your head, which tells you this could, with more finesse and care, have been brilliantly and deliciously twisted.
Star Rating: 2½
RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 76%
In Selected Cinemas…
The Tale of Princess Kaguya
Director Isao Takahata’s charming Japanese anime for the prolific Studio Ghibli was nominated as Best Animated Feature at this year’s Academy Awards.
A miniature girl (voiced by Chloe Grace Moretz) lives in the mountains with her good friend Sutemaru (Darren Criss).
One day, she encounters a kind bamboo cutter (James Caan), who takes her home to his wife (Mary Steenburgen) and raises the miniature girl as their own daughter.
The girl grows unusually fast and is christened Princess Kaguya since the bamboo cutter is convinced that she harks from rarefied royal stock.
She attracts a number of handsome and wealthy suitors but they all pale next to her beloved Sutemaru and she secretly hankers for her simple, old life away from the trappings of privilege in the city.
RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 100%
A Second Chance
Police officer Andreas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his wife Anna (Maria Bonnevie) are struggling to contend with a baby son who cries persistently through the night.
They take it in turns to placate the mewling infant, but the lack of sleep takes a toll on the marriage.
One day at work, Andreas and his partner Simon (Ulrich Thomsen) visit the flat of ex-con Tristan (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and his girlfriend Sanne (May Andersen) and discover the drug-addicted couple’s child in a closet, mistreated and covered in its own mess.
Andreas is horrified, but his rage turns to despair when it transpires that the authorities will not intervene to protect the infant.
Soon after, Andreas’ son dies suddenly in the middle of the night, propelling Anna to the brink of emotional meltdown.
On the spur of the moment, the devastated police officer decides to steal Tristan and Sanne’s baby, swapping their mistreated child for his dead boy.
RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 55%
French-Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan delivers one of the films of the year with this stylistically daring fifth feature, which dissects the sinewy bonds between a single mother and her emotionally troubled teenage son.
Dolan boldly chooses to restrict the usual aspect ratio of the screen, focusing everything in the middle third with black borders either side, apart from two bravura sequences when the characters literally and figuratively expand their horizons.
Diane (Anne Dorval) is woefully unprepared to take care of her son Steve (Antoine Olivier Pilon), who has just been discharged from a care facility with ADHD.
At his worst, he is physically and verbally abusive – a nightmare for self-obsessed Diane, who earns a meager wage as a cleaner.
Miraculously, a neighbour called Kyla (Suzanne Clement), who is a schoolteacher, takes a shine to Steve and agrees to help the lad come to terms with his impulses.
RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 90%