Film No 30 (2015) : The Descendants

descendantsThis DVD turns up quite often in the supermarket bargain bucket, which has always put me off buying it, even though I’ve picked it up many times. Shows how much I know – ‘The Descendants‘ received 130 award nominations and won 65 of them! I watched it on the TV this week, so that was definitely a bargain.

Matt King (George Clooney) is a successful Hawaiian lawyer who is also the trustee of a significant amount of land owned by his family. Selling the land to developers would be lucrative for Matt and his cousins. Married to Elizabeth for many years, the Kings have two daughters, Alex (Shailene Woodley) and Scottie (Amara Miller), but life has been challenging of late. The two girls have been behaving badly and Matt and Elizabeth have been having some problems in their marriage. Things take a definite turn for the worse when Elizabeth is badly injured in an accident; doctors tell Matt she is not going to wake up from her coma, and the decision is made to turn off her life support. As if things aren’t bad enough for Matt, Alex then reveals that she knew her mother had been having an affair. With his wife dying and unable to communicate, Matt tries to restore harmony throughout his life.

Clooney plays this part with great sensitivity – feeling his way across the chasms which divide him from Elizabeth and their daughters. Shailene Woodley seems to mature before your eyes as the movie develops; changing from a self-obsessed, self-destructive teenager, to a caring sister and supportive daughter. Matt faces some tough decisions and I believe that this film is essentially about doing the Right Thing, however awkward the consequences.




Film No 11 (2015) : Insurgent

insurgentCommon sense should tell us that society is not going to function properly if we divide people according to their predominant characteristic, be that peacefulness (Amity), intelligence (Erudite), honesty (Candor), selflessness (Abnegation) or bravery (Dauntless). Surely the wheels of civilisation are only going to turn smoothly if each and every one of us combines a little of each of these humane qualities? But in Veronica Roth’s post-apocalyptic Chicago, being Divergent, not fitting neatly in to a faction, makes one a danger.

Insurgent‘ continues the story of Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley), an Abnegation-born Divergent. She and her boyfriend Four (Theo James), as well as her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) are hiding out in the living quarters of Amity, having escaped from an attempt to obliterate Abnegation. A search of Tris’ mother’s home reveals a small, pentagonal prism which is relayed to the central headquarters of Jeanine, the leader of Erudite. Jeanine knows that this mysterious canister contains a  message from the Founders. She is equally certain that its secrets will only be revealed when a Divergent manages to complete the mind simulations of all five factions. The order goes out to hunt down every Divergent; Tris’ life is in danger.

This was a great start to the Easter holidays; we splashed out on a family cinema trip (well, at £30 a time, it feels like a luxury!) and immersed ourselves in the movie. In places the film is emotionally hard-hitting; both my daughter and I cried at a scene between Tris and her departed mother and a love scene between Tris and Four is depicted movingly. There is not much light relief, other than when Tris cuts off her long hair with her mother’s antiquated shears and manages to reveal a strand-perfect, highlighted and elegantly coiffed pixie cut. But hey, it is Hollywood! This is fast-paced and engaging entertainment and I can’t wait for the final part of the story, ‘Allegiant‘.

Film No 32 (2014) : Divergent

divergent filmNew York, New York – so good they named it twice.

Divergent, Divergent – so good we watched it twice! Seriously, we viewed it twice in 2 days.

The 2014 film adaptation of the novel features Shailene Woodley as Tris  and Ansel Elgort as her brother, Caleb (the pair are also cast opposite one another in The Fault in our Stars). Four is played by Theo James (a local-born lad, went to Aylesbury Grammar) and the movie also stars Ashley Judd (Natalie, Tris’ mother) and Kate Winslet. Directed by Neil Burger, it is a faithful adaptation of the novel, although the book goes into far more detail about the friendships and tensions which develop between the Dauntless initiates. I also found that, somewhat surprisingly, the violence in the written version was more graphic than on-screen. This film has a great soundtrack, with Ellie Goulding, Snow Patrol and Kendrick Lamar.

Even if you have not read the book, this is a great action movie, with plenty of food for thought. When I was younger, I don’t remember watching many films aimed at teenagers which made me think that deeply about anything – there was not much between ‘Midnight Express’ and ‘Grease’! Tris’ tests as part of the Dauntless initiation certainly made me reflect upon my own attitudes to fear, whether mental or physical. I’ve never been in a situation where I faced real physical danger (unless you count getting snow-bound in my Ford Fiesta on the A90 in Forfar), mental fears are more my forte. I’m frightened of failing, of exposure, of humiliation, frightened to even try sometimes. Beating our inner demons seems to require far more courage than overcoming more tangible ones.

Dauntless never give up. Tris makes the cut, but I am not sure I would.


Film No 29 (2014) : The Fault in Our Stars

fault in our starsIf you have read the book, you have seen the film. In terms of faithfulness to the original, this screen adaptation of John Green’s novel is virtually unchanged from the written work.

Hazel and Augustus meet at a support group for young cancer sufferers. Their relationship develops slowly; Hazel is unwilling to commit as she does not want to put Gus through the pain of  losing her. However, in the way of all true romance, their love for one another is inevitable and unavoidable. Hazel persuades Gus to read her favourite novel, which ends abruptly when its main character dies. Hazel desperately wants to visit the author of the book to ask him to explain what happens to the characters, after the death of the heroine. With Gus’ help, Hazel makes the trip to Amsterdam to meet the writer, Peter Van Houten, but the reception she receives from him is not the one she hoped for. Following a disastrous meeting with Van Houten, Hazel and Gus take some time out in the city, but their adventure ends in sadness when one of them has to reveal that their cancer has returned. Faced with the reality of terminal illness, the couple returns home and tries to make the most of their time together.

Shailene Woodley (Hazel) plays her part with a natural poignancy which is difficult not to like. Ansel Elgort (Gus) is a relative newcomer to cinema, but this film is bound to shoot him to superstardom. Laura Dern and Sam Trammell star as Hazel’s parents and Willem Dafoe is stunning as the drunk and dysfunctional Van Houten.

As a film, ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ does have a point to make, along the ‘make every day count’ lines. I’m not sure how well the film-makers have achieved the aim of instilling optimism though, as the movie is overhwelmingly sad. (The woman behind me in the cinema was literally sobbing). I might have been moved to tears had I not been familiar with the plot, but as it was, I remained dry-eyed. My main issue with the film, and indeed the book, is that it glamourises and romanticises terminal illness. I am lucky enough not to have had the experience of watching a teenager struggle with cancer, but I can’t imagine it is at all romantic. I’d guess it is God-awful on so many levels, none of which I feel particularly well-equipped to contemplate or comment upon, but I struggle to find teenagers dying a source of entertainment. Whilst watching the film, I was too painfully aware that there are real parents and their teenagers, siblings and friends, struggling with the stress and pain of incurable cancer; ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ offered no meaningful insights. It just felt like a cheap shot.