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To Infinity and Star Trek Beyond

star trek beyond podcast

This week on Now Conspiring, we review two movies for the price of infinity. Star Trek Beyond and Sing Street are discussed, along with the new Comic-Con trailers coming out for Justice League and Wonder Woman.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK (and you’re required to answer this): Which upcoming DC live-action movie will be the best?

Go on…To Infinity and Star Trek Beyond

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Review: ‘Allegiant’ Doubles Down On the Worst Aspects of ‘The Divergent Series’

allegiant review

At first glance, Allegiant seems like an attractive step forward for the somewhat stale YA dystopia trope. It eschews the clunky “Part 2” title in favor of a final movie that will receive a new name altogether (Ascendant). And for a book series that has as many structural problems as Divergent, any change to the source material is welcome.

Unfortunately, Allegiant is just a bigger and more chaotic copy of the first two Divergent movies, narrowing in on many of the themes and plot dynamics that have repeated themselves constantly (seriously, how many characters in these movies need to switch sides for no apparent reason just to move the plot forward?)

Now that the factions of Chicago have rid themselves of the malignant Erudite, two sides have risen up to take control: the Allegiant, made up of the people who want to return the city back to five factions; and the factionless, who want to rid the city of this system altogether.

Rather than pay any sort of attention to the obvious war brewing, Tris (played here by a static Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James carrying most of this film’s better moments) gather their friends in order to escape the city in search of the people who put them there in the first place. Eventually, they come across an organization they learn is experimenting on Chicago in order to create a perfect human society. As expected, this comes at a cost that not everyone part of “Team Tris” is on board with.

allegiant review

What kept the first Divergent somewhat breezy and passable was its simplistic plot. You could explain in a few sentences who the main character was and what she wanted. With Allegiant, it’s exhausting trying to understand who any of these characters are, what they actually want, and what needs to be done. This is partly because the movie fails on almost every level when it comes to defining these characters’ motivations.

There is no clear motive behind the conflicts that occur between the various factions ranging from the Allegiant all the way to the Bureau. Exposition is provided of course, but the acting is so stiff and wooden, this dialogue sounds like more white noise piled on all of the nonsense spoken before it. The movie talks at the audience endlessly, but you never get a sense that the these characters are believably communicating with each other.

Four and Peter are notable exceptions, as usual. Their characters seem to have at least some coherent story arc that makes for some interesting drama. Shailene Woodley is mostly pushed to this side this time around, being forced to react tirelessly to the rantings of the Bureau’s leader, David (played by Jeff Daniels).

Some interesting sci-fi elements provide at least a little imagination to this dull, uneventful prologue to the final chapter, but even the production value seems to be slipping from the previous movies. Many of the effects look unfinished, and the attention to detail has never been so obviously lacking. Early on, a character is shot in the head at point blank range. A second later, we see his body dragged with the back of his head in plain view. There’s no indication whatsoever that he was shot.

Odd continuity errors plague Allegiant throughout, and they’re emphasized by an apparent desire to stretch the movie’s running time with pointless, lingering shots of characters either gawking at each other or staring at mundane landscapes. Strange, considering the film feels 30 minutes longer at just a minute past 2 hours.

allegiant review

It’s a shame because there are corners of this series that could allude to some interesting discussions. There’s much to be said about how trying to control the very emotions and genetics of human beings could be manipulated in order to build a peaceful society. But Allegiant lends no moral ambiguity to the villains of this film, instead forcing mindless acts of villainy coupled with repetitive betrayals in order to justify the direction of the plot. As expected, even the younger target audience is a bit too intelligent to get fooled by the artificial recipe of this unimpressive sequel.

Grade: D-

Extra Credits:

  • It’s no secret that I carry a lot of disdain for this franchise, as well as the book trilogy. Still, I can’t believe I expected more from a premise that boils down to someone being too special for a personality test.
  • Not even the camerawork gets a pass. At one point, the camera zooms in on a characters’ face and then abruptly shifts to a medium shot. It’s amateurish to the point of disbelief.
  • Shailene Woodley can, and has, done so much better. Here’s hoping she makes enough money from this franchise so she can go back to films that have craft.
  • Director Robert Schwentke won’t be directing the final Divergent film (he also did Insurgent). I’m glad because after this and R.I.P.D., Schwentke could use another Red.

No More Questions: Shailene Woodley from ‘The Divergent Series: Allegiant’

shailene woodley interview

Welcome to No More Questions, where I ask the stars you know and love everything you want to know and love.

I think we can all agree that an interview with Miles Teller would’ve been unpleasant and boring, so I disguised myself as Molly Ringwald’s agent and stood next to a Starbucks community board in Beverly Hills until Shailene Woodley just had to talk to me.

We sat down and discussed her new movie The Divergent Series: Allegiant based on the novel “Hunger Games” by Sapphire, as well as some other things you actually care about.

Note: No More Questions is satire. It does not reflect the actual views of Shailene Woodley, Jon Negroni, or anyone else mentioned in this interview. Some of the content in this interview comes from actual quotes by Shailene Woodley in other interviews. Seriously. 

JN: I have to admit something Shia LaWoodley. 

SW: …?

JN: I’ve never done a No More Questions interview with someone younger than me. I hope I don’t break the law here…

SW: We’re both adults, so there’s nothing to worry about.

JN: Hey, whoa, Shia. Are you hitting on me? Because—

SW: No.

JN: A lot of people don’t like you, but they have a hard time articulating why they don’t like you. Do you know why?

SW: Do I know why people can’t explain why they don’t like me? That’s what you’re asking?

JN: Apparently, both of us are.

SW: I suppose it’s my…

JN: …voice

SW: …acting prowess…

JN: (laughs) 

SW: …are we going to talk about the movie at some point?

JN: So Shaileancuisine, how has being the star of a young adult book franchise that most people hate changed your life? 

SW: I don’t feel like my life has changed at all.

JN: Not at all? Because your haircut begs to differ.

SW: I’ve changed a lot because I’ve grown in the last four years. But my values, my morals, what I stand for, hasn’t changed because of this movie. I feel blessed because I have more opportunities artistically.

JN: Are you saying Divergent is…art?

SW: (laughs) No, of course not. I just have the name recognition to do better work now.

JN: Now you can make those dollas! 

(we high five, but Shailene is clearly more into it than I am)

JN: It’s clear that no one takes Divergent seriously at this point. So why do you think celebrated actors like Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Kate Winslet, and even Jeff Daniels keep showing up in these things?

SW: I have a few theories on this because it baffles me, too. Like first day on set, I said to Kate Winslet, “Why are you even here? It’s not like you started out as an extra on Degrassi.”

But then I looked over and saw Jai Courtney by craft services, and Miles Teller and I sort of looked at each other and in unison went, “Ohhhhhhhh.”

JN: But Jailene Woodley—er—Jai Courtney isn’t in this next movie…

SW: You’re welcome.

JN: Let’s just be honest Shirelene, you’re quite attractive. But not obviously attractive. Would you say that this has hurt or helped your career, disregarding The Spectacular Now?

SW: I’m glad you brought that up, because ever since The Secret Life of the American Teenager, I’ve had trouble looking at myself in the mirror. But for whatever reason, my boyfriends from other movies keep showing up in the same movie with me.

JN: You don’t seem weirded out by it. You…seem to like it.

SW: Wouldn’t you?

JN: (I look down at my shoes for some reason) What would you say is your worst movie? 

SW: I get this question a lot, but the answer always changes. Recently, I said Fault in Our Stars because I was having a conversation with Willem Dafoe and needed him to stop crashing on my couch. Before that, I told everyone The Descendents so Willem Dafoe would get jealous.

JN: Yes, I’ve read on Reddit that it’s a great couch. What was your first thought of me? 

SW: Like, as a person?

JN: Little bit of this, little bit of that.

SW: Well, the eyeliner wasn’t necessary. I’ve never seen Molly’s agent wear it.

JN: I wanted you to think I was unpredictable.

SW: I don’t.

JN: What gives you the right to judge me? 

SW: I make more money than you, for one thing.

JN: True, but I’ve been on fewer garbage TV shows.

MT: BURN!

JN: What? Is that Miles Teller I see?

(Miles Teller walks in)

MT: Hey guys, what’s relevant?

JN: Shaimean-to-Jon was just talking about how her career has been mostly terrible.

MT: True, true.

SW: Miles…

MT: I know, I know. I’ll be off your couch soon. J.K. and I—

SW: He’s not going to let you use his shower again. It’s been two years.

MT: I GOT HIM AN OSCAR.

JN: I’m sensing a lot of tension here, guys. Sparks between your characters in Allegiant? Might as well go full Hunger Games at this point. 

SW: No love triangles, or I walk. That’s in the contract.

(Miles shakes his head at this obvious bluff).

JN: Speaking of better franchises, a lot of people — mostly me — like to compare movies to famous soda brands. Between Divergent and Hunger Games, which of you is Coke and which is Diet Coke?

MT: (barely holding in laughter) Is Pepsi OK?

(Miles and I start laughing uncontrollably)

SW: Well, Hunger Games should be Diet Coke right? Because they’re already hungry?

(Miles and I stop laughing and just stare at her)

JN: Have you…seen Hunger Games?

SW: OK, um. You guys should know. I’ve never watched a movie before. Not even a TV show.

(Miles and I look at each other)

In Unison: Ohhhhhhhhhh. /MT: that explains it.


The Divergent Series: Allegiant opens worldwide on March 18, 2016.

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

 

Unopinionated: ‘Divergent’ Isn’t Terrible, But that Doesn’t Mean It’s Good.

Divergent terrible good

You’re different. You don’t fit into a category. They can’t control you. They call it Divergent. You can’t let them find out about you. (Tori speaking to Tris).

Every week, readers send me their unpopular opinions, and on Unopinionated, I explain why they’re unpopular in the first place.

From my inbox: “Here’s an unpopular opinion. Divergent is better than Hunger Games. There, I said it.” – Katie

Comparing these two films is obvious, mostly because Lions Gate Entertainment practically begged fans of Hunger Games to show up for their next young adult dystopia franchise in 2014. Based on a best-selling trilogy by Veronica Roth, Divergent is arguably better than the source material, but that’s not saying much.

The premise of Divergent is pretty much where the trouble starts. Years after an apocalyptic event nearly levels the world, a somewhat rebuilt Chicago has become home to a new, simplified caste system unapologetically inconsistent with nouns and adjectives.

The Amity faction is made up of happy farmers who live outside the city, Erudite holds the city’s intellectuals, Candor are honest and determine the law, Abnegation are selfless and drive the government, and Dauntless are the brave soldiers who protect everyone.

The future belongs to those who know where they belong. -Jeanine

Divergent terrible good

All people are born into a faction that characterizes one of these personality traits in which they’re most dominant, and when they come of age, these adolescents can choose to join another faction after taking what amounts to a personality test.

This is all fairly reminiscent of the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter, but while that more mystical and even mysterious element of the Hogwarts house system was more of an aside to the central plot, Divergentattempts to build an entire narrative around how our personalities divide us. While not a bad concept in theory, it’s immediately overwrought by a plot that never moves on from its initial principle, which isn’t even that interesting to begin with.

The main character, Tris (played by Shailene Woodley in her breakout role), craves a life beyond the plain Abnegation, the faction she was born into. She gets her wish when she discovers she’s “divergent,” meaning she fits into too many factions.

In other words, she’s too special because no one gets her. As if.

Don’t try and define me. – Tris

Tris joins Dauntless, much to everyone’s surprise, fueling the only narrative within Divergent that has some meaningful entertainment. A step up from typical High School movies, Tris has to overcome her literal fears in order to survive fitting into a group of young adults she previously had nothing in common with. All while dodging the inconvenience of her status as a divergent, making her a target if the secret gets out.

There are genuine thrills and absorbing moments to be had while watching Tris bond with the recruits and mainstays of the more free-wheeling Dauntless, especially within the commentary of a city trying to rebuild itself with harsher rules and regulations.

Divergent terrible good

But the payoff is too familiar and derivative to contribute anything meaningful to dystopian epics for this age range. Rather than provide something novel to Tris’s character and how she fits into a new world, the film jerks backward to make this about oppressive, authoritarian adults messing up everything.

Having a “chosen one” in any given story is a quick way to ramp up the mediocrity in storytelling. Harry Potter cleverly sidesteps this by shifting focus to how special the villain is, making him an equally important shade of the titular boy wizard. Hunger Games turns this trope on its head by making the “chosen one” special only in the eyes of the masses being manipulated into war, a far more interesting culture point.

Fear does something strange to people like Al. But not you. Fear doesn’t shut you down, it wakes you up. – Four

But Divergent has nothing interesting to give its “chosen one” except that she has too many dominant personality traits. There’s nothing else to Tris’s character that shapes her decisions and struggles to move through the plot. She’s simply special because the script demands it, and this is too obvious for most moviegoers.

On the other hand, it’s not clear that denser lore would have improved anything. The world of Divergent is already stuffed with uninspired naming conventions and quirks that beat the moviegoer over the head with reminders that they’re watching a movie created for kids.

Grade: C+

Fans of the books have plenty to love in Divergent, as it’s a streamlined improvement over the schlock writing that inspired it. And it certainly has some entertaining moments that keep the story moving. But at this point, fans of the genre have plenty of options superior to an empty psychology lecture.


Do you have an unpopular opinion you want challenged? Let me know in the comments and I’ll take it on in a future Unopinionated article. Or you can email nowconspiring@gmail.com

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

Which YA Dystopia Movie Franchise is the WORST?

worst ya movie

This week on the podcast, the Now Conspiring team reviews Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials and Black Mass. We also play a new game called “Was it a Flop?” and revisit the glory days of Zoey 101.

Plus, we read your comments from last week’s episode and start up this week’s burning discussion.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Which book-movie franchise of the young adult dystopia genre is the absolute worst?

Go on…Which YA Dystopia Movie Franchise is the WORST?

The ‘Divergent’ Series Is Actually Being Smart About Its Final Two Movies. Almost.

ascendant divergent

I could be wrong about this, but I’m pretty sure we have Harry Potter (and Warner Bros) to thank for this “one book stretched into two movies” trend that has taken over mainstream YA cinema.

Hunger Games did it, Twilight did it, and Percy Jackson would have probably done it if enough people went to see Sea of Monsters. And as you no doubt expected, The Divergent Series is doing it, too.

But rather than go with the normal convention to give both movies the same name as the book with just a “Part 1” and “Part 2” tacked on, the studio (Summit Entertainment) has chosen to rename the fourth movie.

As someone who is fed up with the marketing tactics of YA movies, I think this is a smart move and hope it catches on with book-to-movie franchises I actually want to watch. And to be fair, Summit is likely taking a cue from how poorly received Mockingjay: Part 1 was, which made $100 million less than Catching Fire. This happened in part because even the name of the movie went out of its way to let you know that this was more of a setup, not a sequel.

ascendant divergent

So the next film in the Divergent franchise will be called The Divergent Series: Allegiant, which is the name of the book plus the annoying descriptive phrase preceding it because apparently Hollywood doesn’t have enough faith in our short-term memory and hates fitting the actual name of the movie on a ticket stub. Regardless, there’s no “Part 1” because…

The fourth movie will now be called The Divergent Series: Ascendant, which betrays the “gent” branding they’ve worked so little to make us work for. Still, it’s a big deal that they’re willing to rename the second half of a book. Can you imagine the uproar if The Deathly Hallows had been replaced with something like Harry Potter: and the Surprising Addition of Neville Longbottom as a Critical Character? Actually, that sounds about right.

 

What’s even more barely interesting is their choice in visual marketing. If you take a close look at the Allegiant poster, you’ll see the same symbols from the cover of the book. That makes sense. But then look at the Ascendant image right next to it.

divergent ascendant

Seriously, Summit? You couldn’t vary the posters just a little bit? Sure, the symbols are different, but literally no effort was made to provide a distinction between the two movies. You might as well revert the naming format if you’re going to market them as…well, Part 1 and Part 2.

To be fair, I’m not saying the posters look bad. It’s just a little jarring when you see the math formula behind this franchise’s marketing so overtly, as opposed to gently obvious.

This is actually a great representation for my main issue with this franchise, which is how annoyingly planned this world comes off as. It obeys every trope in the YA handbook, it treats its release dates with unrelenting precision and predictability, and the movies themselves are just a checklist/gift bag of meticulous things you’ve already seen in other movies, only better.

I’m not just picking on Divergent, of course. Marvel and D.C. deserve a lot more flack (especially Marvel at this point) for how willing they are to lay out the next ten years of superhero movies they plan to do on a timeline, eliminating all of the mystery and guessing for what comes next. It’s all just become such a boring science.

ascendant divergent

Anyway, Allegiant and Ascendant also have new tailgates that shouldn’t surprise anyone with their blandness. Allegiant is simply “break the boundaries of your world” and Ascendant is “the end is never what you expect.” Except, I’ve already read the books, and unless they’re changing the ending for the movies, you’re going to expect it…and not in a good way.

 

Robert Schwentke — who directed the nearly unwatchable Insurgent (in my opinion) — is helming both Allegiant and Ascendant, which makes me strongly reconsider finishing this franchise. The Divergent Series: Allegiant will open on March 18, 2016, followed by The Divergent Series: Ascendant a year later on March 24, 2017.

Source: MTV

Review: ‘Insurgent’

insurgent review

Divergent Series: Insurgent (or just Divergent 2: Insurgent if you want it to have a better title) tries hard to make a “great” movie out of the good first entry in this franchise, but it fails to set itself apart.

While Divergent was a familiar, but exciting, mashup of several young adult book movie tropes, Insurgent is essentially one long chase scene that relies solely on ripple effects from the first film (which wasn’t that strong to begin with).

Gone are the interesting, sometimes compelling, themes of discovering where you fit into society and the abuse of power as a consequence of obsessive classification. Instead, the movie swaps its genre — and even some of its themes — for “you are very special” ideas that feel like the easy way out for this decently built world.

Though the action scenes are excellent and the characters are worth investing into, Insurgent has a weak, convoluted narrative filled with plot holes and gaps in its story that will provoke eye-rolls. Of course, fans of the franchise will be much more forgiving, since there’s still plenty for them to love here.

Woodley herself does an admirable job of balancing her inexperience as a teenager with a thirst for violence that is welcome when she unleashes it. This time around, she has less of a physical growth that completes her training from the first film, as they instead run around and work to solve problems with resources of a previous story. This would be fine if the hero was surrounding by more interesting players.

Strangely, her chemistry with anyone but Four is a highlight, but it falls completely flat when it’s meant to count the most. Because of this, everyone from her brother to frenemy played by Miles Teller is reduced to a repeat arc of Divergent. Only the most hardcore fans of this series will find that to be entertaining, and rightfully so.

Grade: D

Rated: PG-13 (For intense violence and action throughout, some sensuality, thematic elements and brief language)

Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Miles Teller

Genre: Drama, Action & Adventure, Romance, Science Fiction & Fantasy

Directed ByRobert Schwentke

Written ByAkiva Goldsman, Brian Duffield, Mark Bomback

In Theaters: Mar 20, 2015 (Wide Release)

Runtime: 1 hr. 59 min.

Thanks for reading! You can subscribe to posts like this by clicking “follow” in the right sidebar. Or just follow me on Twitter for updates and cool things the Internet shows me: @JonNegroni

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