It's time for another edition of The Quick and Dirties. For the uninitiated, these are posts where I give rather short reviews to a number of films, usually surrounding some loosely defined theme. In this case, I'm revisiting a topic I did a few weeks back during Girl Week. That topic is movies with a female protagonist. Let's not keep these ladies waiting...
After the events of the first movie, our heroine Tris (Shailene Woodley) is on the run from the government. She is also working with her beau in trying to form a resistance. Nah, this doesn't sound familiar at all. Sigh. Another pointless entry in
The Hunger Games Lite Divergent franchise. In a supermarket, the store brand is a knock-off of a name brand product. It's not exactly the same, but a reasonable facsimile. The key selling point is the cheaper price. The Divergent series, with its smaller budgets, lesser known cast, and similar enough story, is pretty clearly a knock-off of The Hunger Games. Its highlights and mistakes are similar, with a few extra mistakes thrown in. Since it costs the same to see most every movie, and this fails to differentiate itself in any significant fashion, this really has no reason to exist. This isn't to say I found Insurgent completely terrible, just completely uninspired. Woodley tries mightily to elevate material that is thoroughly derivative and predictable. There are some heavyweights here, like Kate Winslet in the villain-role for the second time, but she appears to be sleepwalking through the film. The twist that gives us our conclusion feels like it should end the series, but instead sets up a third movie. Some really nice action sequences along the way, particularly late as Tris is trying to pass a series of tests, keep us at least a little interested. Still, the whole thing engenders a "been there, done that" feeling that's nigh impossible to shake.
Drug addict Kym (Hathaway) leaves rehab for a few days to attend her sister Rachel’s (Rosemarie Dewitt) wedding. The first thing that jumps out at you is the documentary style look of the film. It’s a major tool in grounding the movie in reality and gives us a “you are there” feel. To foster the illusion you need natural and genuine feeling performances from the cast. Beginning with Hathaway, this ensemble delivers in spades. She hits all right notes and her co-stars follow suit. Her chemistry with Dewitt is explosive. To complete the trick, the script has to also be excellent and it is indeed. Therefore, even the most dramatic moments seem to be the organic result of the lives these people led before we met them and not manufactured by some writer attempting to create big moments. In keeping with that aesthetic, it’s also a true slice-of-life tale. Though there are plenty of conflicts, there is no ending in the traditional movie sense. Occasionally, it goes a little too far to maintain that feeling of reality. It does this by letting the extraneous things go on a bit long. A couple different times, we get a parade of relatives toasting the bride and groom. Both scenes could’ve been streamlined a lot. Finally, as much as we get from most of our main characters, we get nothing from Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe), the groom. Here’s a guy trying to get through the most important event in his life and all of the drama of his fiancé’s family is exploding everywhere around him yet all he can do is stand around with a stupid grin on his face. It makes us question why Rachel would marry such a stiff. Still, for those of you into drama, family drama in particular, this is a gold mine. It’s both genuine and stirring. As I mentioned earlier, Hathaway and Dewitt are both outstanding.
The acronym DUFF, we're told, stands for "designated ugly, fat friend." We're also told that to be a DUFF one doesn't have to be ugly or fat. You just have to be less attractive that everyone else in your circle of friends and act as a buffer between them and other undesirables. Through some harsh interactions with her super-jock next door neighbor, Bianca (Mae Whitman) finds out that she is, in fact, a DUFF. In an effort to shed this status, she strikes a deal with the handsome neighbor Wesley (Robbie Amell). She'll help him pass science and, in return, he'll help her snag the attention of the boy of her dreams. It's a generic, predictable ugly-duckling story that manages to be funny in spots. It's not a bad movie, per se. It's just one that plays out precisely as you think it will every step of the way.
Yelling to the Sky
(2011)Sweetness (Zoe Kravitz) is a girl dealing with lots of issues. We meet her as she is getting beaten up by the local group of wayward teens while trying to walk home from high school. She's rescued by her pregnant older sister Ola (Antonique Smith) who puts the smack-down on some dude. At home, there are more problems. Mom (Yolonda Ross) appears to be bipolar, or suffer from some similar malady. She disappears for days, weeks, or maybe even months at a time. When she returns, or more likely, gets retrieved by Dad (Jason Clarke) she is in a near-catatonic state and remains that way for quite a while. Dad is an abusive drunk and reason his wife often takes off. Neither seems to be working so its no surprise that poverty sits on top of all that. In an effort to rise above these circumstances, Sweetness takes up with Roland (Black Thought of The Roots), a drug dealer with a heart of gold. I desperately wanted to love this film thanks to a fantastic turn by the underrated Kravitz (also appearing in Insurgent, by the way) and the fact the movie has something to say. At least, it feels like it has something to say. Unfortunately, whatever it is trying to convey is jumbled, implausible, and tinged with the "White Savior" cliche. Those of you who haven't seen it are in a bit of a quandary. See it for the Kravitz performance, and a very nice one by Gabourey Sidibe as Sweetness's rival, or skip it for the mess it makes of itself.
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