The Valdosta Daily Times
“Divergent” (Action/Science Fiction: 2 hours, 20 minutes)
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, and Kate Winslet
Director: Neil Burger
Rated: PG-13 (Violence, thematic elements, some sensuality)
Movie Review: While this science-fiction piece attempts to be divergent, it is merely one of many elementary movies showing a young woman, usually an unlikely teen, becoming the hero. This play out is seen in several recent films: “Vampire Academy” (2014), “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” (2013), “The Host” (2013) and “The Twilight Saga” that started in 2008. These movies take ordinary young women and turns them into brave warriors in awkward, love-story plots and settings aimed at teenagers.
A futuristic Chicago society is a division of factions based on five virtues: Abnegation (selflessness), Amity (peacefulness), Candor (honesty), Dauntless (courage), and Erudite (intelligence). The founders of this society arranged the factions to keep the peace. Although born into a certain faction of society, children undergo an aptitude test at age 16 that determines to which faction they are best suited. However, these 16-year-olds have the chance to choose the faction to which they will spend the rest of their lives or remain with their families’ faction. If young adults try leaving a faction once committing to it, they are cast as “factionless” and find themselves ostracized from society and disowned by every faction.
Tris Prior (Woodley) takes the test but her result is inconclusive. She keeps her results a secret and chooses to become part of the Dauntless Faction. Prior soon finds she is a Divergent, a person who can fit into multiple areas. These individuals are different. This difference frightens some, so certain people see Divergents as a threat to the factions’ order. Therefore, the factions hunt and kill Divergents. Prior must remain safe while uncovering a major plot of one faction to overthrow another.
The setting in which this story takes place is whacky. Apparently, the founders of this fictional society created factions to form a lasting peace. Well, nothing works in harmony like a caste system that forces a certain social order on its people. This one thing does not make sense. Other inconsistencies exist also.
If the children can pick their faction, why have aptitude tests? The tests are only there as suggestions — like teens really follow suggestions.
This story is for young teens, primarily teenage women. It’s good plenty of films are debuting that showcase women in strong roles.
The films are encouraging in this aspect, but they are far from persuasive. These films also turn into romances where the young woman finds romance, help and courage through a relationship with some handsome man, who is usually older.
While these films show young women as strong characters, these heroines are often trained by an older male with whom they fall in love. These women are still portrayed as needing a man to succeed, so these roles negate themselves by having these young women male dependent.
That aside, “Divergent” does provide some entertaining moments in the form of action sequences. It also provides a slight mystery sequence that amuses, yet the final scenes leave much unanswered. Its fault is taking too long to build a story; it’s as if the film merges two plots to get to one. Ultimately, a future is established for a possible sequel.
Meanwhile, the acting is bland. The plot is unconvincing. Good thing the action moments provide some entertaining substance. This production attempts divergence but settles as typical.
Grade: C+ (It entertains, but its story is not divergent.)
“Muppets Most Wanted” (Comedy/Crime: 1 hour, 47 minutes)
Starring: Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Ricky Gervais, Matt Vogel and Tina Fey
Director: James Bobin
Rated: PG (Violence)
Movie Review: This grand adventure involves crime, singing and Europe as only the Muppets can offer. This outing, the group finds itself in Europe on a grand tour orchestrated by Dominic Badguy (Gervais). Note Dominic’s last name. While on tour in Europe, Kermit the Frog (voice of Whitmire) is replaced by Constantine (voice of Vogel), the world’s most wanted criminal. While the show must go on, the Muppets, including Miss Piggy (voice of Jacobson), are unaware a notorious Constantine is using the Muppets to steal valuable items from European collections.
The Muppets are consistent as films. This is good. They do not try to top the previous films. They are separate stories. Because of this, the screenplays can stand alone, even if they refer to previous films.
Action and adventure are just as enjoyable here as in the previous movie. The opening sequence is a song and dance routine that is riveting. Scenes keep entertaining from there. Humor is prevalent. Action scenes are gratifying. The Muppets never fail to succeed at being captivating. Director Bobin, who helmed the previous Muppet film, “The Muppets” (2011), provides the same kind of humor that made the last screenplay attention-getting material.
Grade: B (Most enjoyable)
“God’s Not Dead” (Religion: 1 hour, 53 minutes)
Starring: Shane Harper, Kevin Sorbo, David A.R. White
Director: Harold Cronk
Rated: PG (Thematic material, brief violence and an accident scene)
Movie Review: Josh Wheaton (Harper) is a young college student. His life changes when Professor Radisson (Sorbo), Wheaton’s philosophy professor, declares that God is dead. The professor’s actions disturb and test Wheaton’s faith. Even more, Radisson has the students write what he declares and sign it. Wheaton challenges Radisson. The two debate in front of the class with students serving as the jury. Although the debate is one-sided in favor of Wheaton via writers of this screenplay, the film manages to offer its message to the faithful.
This film has a fascinating initiation, but it fails to keep its focus. It tries to make each character relevant when the classroom debate is intriguing. The film should have kept its focus on the in-classroom debate and bypassed other moments that are lesser cinema. Several scenes are unnecessary.
Willie and Korie Robertson of “Duck Dynasty” fame appear, but their scenes mean nothing to the film. Apparently, they are present to make a statement about defending their faith as displayed on their television show. That is all good, but their showing adds nothing to the great story presented.
Other characters are also unnecessary. Several story arcs and characters exist that are unrelated or unneeded to progress the core of this story. Again, the film’s best moments are the in-classroom moments, where producers had a chance to really explore the Bible with viewers and promote its powerful message more. Instead, the film preaches to the choir with unneeded scenes and characters. For example, songs near the end take up too much time. When an important moment happens, the film brushes over it quickly and unconvincingly to return to a musical concert.
That written, the movie is entertaining. It just tries to be too much at once. A straightforward story would suffice. Cronk (“Jerusalem Countdown,” 2011) and writers are too busy with producing their message that they forget to make a sound screenplay. All is engaging but leaves one wishing more was less in a straightforward screenplay.
Grade: C+ (Good but it forgets to be sufficient unto the day)