Based on a trilogy of books written by Veronica Roth, Divergent brought to screen by Neil Burger begins as many other similar dystopian films years after the civilization as we know was destroyed by war. One of the surviving pockets is the city of Chicago. In the retro-futuristic ruins that we know from many other films the local community survives by having itself divided into five strict casts, with well defined social roles – agricultural production, justice, social assistance, policing and defense. One has to chose once base on some kind of a hipno-test that detects his abilities and recommends the future path. There is no return. Outfits are thrown out of the system in kind of a homeless world. Those who do not fit into the patterns are feared, and eliminated when identified. They are the Divergents.
The film is the story of one of them – a teenage girl who chooses to train to become part of the more exciting military-policing cast – or maybe two if we add her trainer who has one secret in his pocket – as they fight the system, try to adapt, but do not find their way of integrating, so they revolt. The premises are almost as strict as the social rules of the world that is being described in the film, and it would have taken quite a lot of talent and character building in order to overcome a simplistic approach. Unfortunately this is not the case, and the film hesitates between a future vision which is not original enough and a teenage fighting adversity story which is not complex or interesting enough.
Director Neil Burger of The Illusionist fame quite disappoints here. I should say that he disappoints again, as after that 2006 movie he never got back to the level of story and characters building that he reached there. He never succeeds to exceed the cliches of the The Hunger Games genre. No, this is not supposed to be a compliment. Divergent is too much resembling many other films of its genre, the young Shailene Woodley and Theo James act well but they are no Jennifer Lawrence and the presence of Kate Winslet in a well built supporting role is not enough to save this film from a very average grade. Divergent is missing some more divergence.
The Dressmaker brings to screen a successful Australian novel by Rosalie Ham who sets her 1950s story in a small dessert town in the middle of the big Nowhere which is the Australian wilderness. It’s one of these ‘out-of-the-track’ films which generates extreme opinions and wins lovers and haters, because in order to enjoy it, one needs to like films with weird characters and situations, accept a story that departs from the usual right vs. evil conditions, and stop considering real life credibility as a principal criteria to evaluate a movie.
Apparently this is a story of home coming, of lost memory and revenge, with Mirtle ‘Tilly’ Dunnage coming home to imaginary Dungatar, many years after she was sent away ostracized for allegedly killing another kid at the age of 10. The ugly crying girl has turned into a beautiful and elegant woman (Kate Winslet) who not only attracts the stares of the male population and envy of the feminine one, but will also change their lives in many ways. She does not remember a thing about the crime that she is accused of having committed in childhood, and will try to bring back the memories and put her life back on track.
Director Jocelyn Moorhouse at her 5th film made after 18 years of interruption in her career chose a mix of styles and genres. Some of the (‘professional’) critics that I have read blame her for not picking and sticking to one well-known pattern. Is this film a comedy, a romantic story, a feminist drama, a revenge saga, a bloody action movie? I would say that the quality of the film resides in the fact that it is all of these combined and more.
Then we have the fashion story. Tilly has become a dressmaker in Europe and will use her skills to change the appearances and the lives of the women in the village. The classic Greek saying ‘The man is his clothes’ better known in English by ‘clothes make the man’ (Shakespeare used it among other) was never better served. I found the idea charming, it also remembered me the story of a lesser known Israeli film ‘Turn Left at the End of the World’ in which it is cricket that changes the lives of the inhabitants of a desert town.
The movie is enjoyable because of a few splendid acting parts. I especially enjoyed Judy Davis as the apparently demented mother of Tilly, and sparkling Hugo Weaving as the man of the law who secretly loves wearing dresses and ribbons. Kate Winslet is strong and expressive, but the miscasting of her handsome peer Liam Hemsworth was very evident. She seems to be a bit too old for her role, he seems to be a little bit too young for the role. But again, maybe even this miscasting is intentional, and the director gave us one more warning to take the story and the world she created in a non-realistic manner. Her world in its splendid isolation, with its characters that are rather archetypes that real life characters mostly in the comic registry reminded me another lesser know film – the Romanian ‘Somewhere in Palilula’. Tragic death and violence will make their appearance, but terror is inflicted mainly by shooting golf balls, and eventually all falls into farce. Did I mention Tarantino?
The second film in the mini-festival of Steve Jobs movies that I enjoyed last Friday was also the better one. Danny Boyle, the director of Trainspotting, Sunshine, and Slumdog Millionaire may have hit gold again, as his Steve Jobs started to collect awards at the Golden Globe ceremony last night, and Michael Fassbender became lead contender to the magic statuette to be awarded for Best Actor on February 28. What is the secret?
The film based on a script by Aaron Sorkin (who also brought to screen the character of Facebook’s Zuckerberg) is very different from the other biopic (‘Jobs’) or from the documentaries dedicated to the man and the entrepreneur who was Jobs. It catches three half-hours prior to three major announcements in the career of Jobs, but does not deal almost at all with the technicalities – they deal with the atmosphere (ordered chaos we can call it), with the encounters of Jobs with people who are close to him – his technical partner Wozniak, his business partner John Sculley, and especially his estrange wife and his daughter, whom initially he refused to recognize in one of these attitudes who built his negative perception as a father and human in the eyes of the public. The situations repeat and escalate, but the relationship with his daughter provide the missing human dimension. We may not understand more of the hi-tech genius of Jobs, but we gain more understanding about the man and father he was.
Besides the smart script, acting is the second winning card that makes ‘Steve Jobs’ the better Jobs film. Michael Fassbender avoids replicating the physical characteristics of Steve Jobs and focuses on his personal life and the relations with his partners and close ones (as close as he let them be). Kate Winslet builds the character of Joanna Hoffman who was the right-hand of Jobs but gets a much more extended role than she played in reality. You may not recognize her at first sight, as this role is pretty far from her usual gallery. A Globe is hers already, other awards may follow.
By focusing on a specific segment of Jobs’ personality this movie succeeded to give a better view of the whole. Yet, it’s only one facet of a huge personality that remains from many other points of view an enigma, and maybe character for more movies.
Screening ‘Labor Day’ (which was not brought to commercial theaters in Israel) released on Labor Day 2013 on the eve of Labor Day 2014 was a smart move for the distributors, that brought me to the cinematheque in my hometown. I am not sure that this was the smartest move for me in this American holiday weekend. Based upon a novel by Joyce Maynard, the film directed by Jason Reitman succeeds eventually to squeeze a tear, but demonstrates also that succeeding to squeeze a tear does not necessarily make a good film.
Kate Winslet is a divorced mother who raises alone her pre-teenage kid and whose feelings of loss and distress turned into deep anxiety. Josh Brolin plays an escaped convict who finds refuge in their house during the long Labor Day holiday weekend. What starts as a conflictual situation turns gradually in a love story as the man has his own sad history and the two find in each other what they always needed. It’s of course a story which cannot end well, not on short term at least, and the principal problem is that the premises of the melodrama are unnecessarily exaggerated for both heroes’ stories, and everything is awfully predictable after the very first few minutes.
Director Jason Reitman imposed a very minor style in cinematography and telling its story. All characters are uneasy, and this includes the teenage boy whose off-screen voice is used much too extensively on my taste in order to fill in some of the details of the narration, or to guide the feelings of the viewers. I think that I understand many of Reitman’s decisions but I cannot say that I liked the result. Kate Winslet is excellent in playing ladies in deep distress, and she does a fine job here as well, but watching her does not compensate the overdose of melodrama. There is nothing too wrong about this film, but I cannot recommend it as Labor Day or any other holiday entertainment either.
Having seen a few weeks ago Side Effects I was reflecting that maybe Steven Soderbergh would not necessarily do a bad thing taking a break from directing. Well, I had not seen ‘Contagion’ yet, one of his previous movies. To use the terms of the story in this movie, the origin of the disease can be traced way back.
The world is in danger in Contagion as a deadly flue virus originating (where else?) in South-East Asia is spreading around the world, killing first individuals, than thousands, than millions. Governments, corporations, the World Health Organization, become all engaged in a race to find the roots of the disease, to stop its spreading and contagion, to find a cure. The problem with the film is that there are too many threads, none of them extremely interesting or surprising, some going nowhere. For example a researcher seems to have found a cure but is ordered to stop research and destroy the samples – we never learn why, last time we see him he seems to disobey the orders and then he just disappears for the rest of the film. An Internet blogger and journalist claim that cure exists and proves it on its own body, but this thread never connects with the rest of the film. If the purpose of director Soderbergh is to show chaos on screen he did succeed, but it’s more film-making chaos than everything else. There were a few moments when it seemed that the film heads towards showing the impact of a catastrophic disease on the fabric of the American society, but these were also wasted in too expected scenes of army in the streets and supermarket plundering, lost and forgotten soon enough, as brave scientists discover the cure and test it on themselves to speed the solution. The script is disappointing, a collection of TV soap episodes concentrated to a few minutes each and badly interconnected.
The cast is certainly impressive. Heaving on screen in the same film Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Gwyneth Paltrow, and a few other who would alone hold a movie on their shoulders is certainly a performance for the producer and a pleasure for spectators. Fans should however be warned that some of them die young in this film, and none has the opportunity to play a role that will be remembered for a long time. Despite the gathering of talents Contagion is a confusing and chaotic film.
‘Carnage’ is a disappointment. Having seen the play staged in Bucharest last spring I knew what it was about, and I was expecting much more from a film directed by Roman Polanski and adapted to screen by the playwright herself, Yasmina Reza, one of the most successful theater authors nowadays. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, it is only the cast that did not disappoint, and as much as I love to watch all that Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet do, they do not succeed to break the barrier of the expected.
I am not sure what or who is to blame. Maybe it starts with the script, which does little beyond transferring the story from France to Manhattan and does not add any element that can be turned into visual language. It goes on with the setting which is probably intentional banal, but seems to constrain permanently the moves of the actors and interfere with their expressions. It ends with the directing which lets the actors do their job (which is good) but adds little to the overall message of the film with the exception of the prologue and epilogue filmed outdoors. I felt no Polanski thrill in this film and I missed it.
Does the message make it? Maybe having seen the play prepared me too much and I was a viewer hard to be impressed. The involution and graduate de-peeling of the layers of civility is there, but less poignant than I expected. The relationship between the bourgeois environment and the violence in the streets, between the violence of the relations between kids and the one experience by one of the characters in Africa are largely lost. Maybe Polanski’s ‘Carnage’ is an example of the differences between what makes a successful play and a successful screen adaptation and a proof that too much good acting does not necessarily make good cinema.