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Peanuts and Popcorn

Peanuts and Popcorn

‘Insurgent’ Carries on the Story with no Point

posted by jtotey
Tris (Shailene Woodley) continues her journey with Four (Theo James) and bad haircut in "Insurgent."

Tris (Shailene Woodley) continues her journey with Four (Theo James) and bad haircut in “Insurgent.” (Summit Entertainment)

I have never read the Divergent series of books by Veronica Roth, but I have been told that the third book in the series, “Alliegiant” is very disappointing. After seeing Divergent the movie and now Insurgent, I think I can understand why. The premise in the first film had an intriguing premise. The world as we know had been reduced to the city of Chicago where all the residents were divided up into five factions: Abnegation, Amity, Dauntless, Candor and Erudite. The second movie, Insurgent, takes place right after Divergent and about 200 years after the formation of the five factions. The world people live in is a contrast of super high-tech and extreme poverty almost in the same space and a civil war is about to emerge. A giant massacre has occurred between on faction and another. Clearly, this way of doing business is not working.

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This story begins with our heroes Tris (Shailene Woodley), Caleb (Ansel Elgort), Four (Theo James) and few others hiding in plain site within the boundaries of peace-loving Amity faction led by Johanna (Octavia Spencer). They are living in relative harmony but itching to get out. Understandably bitter due to the deaths of her parents, Tris becomes extremely edgy and frankly, unlikeable. The girl you were rooting for in the first film is now kinda annoying. Soon, the group is on the run due to when Jeanine (Kate Winslet), leader of the Erudites, discovers a mysterious box that only a Divergent can open. She doesn’t know what’s inside, but feels strongly that it holds the key to her happiness…or something. It’s just not clear what she hopes this big box will do for her. Knowing that Tris is at least partially Divergent in nature, Jeanine has her army hunt her down. However, not before Tris, Caleb and Four have a short visit with his mother, whom he told everyone was dead. She is a leader herself wanting peace, but Four doesn’t trust her.

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Believe it or not, there isn’t much more to the story. A large portion of the film is dedicated to more high-tech special effects where Tris is once again put through enormous hurdles through a device that ushers in bad dreams and amazing fantasy landscapes. Somehow by going through these virtual nightmares, the mystery box will open up. How the two go together is never explained – you’re just supposed to go with it. And finally when the truth is revealed, it leaves you with another “is that all there is” moment.

Insurgent isn’t a bad movie. It should keep your attention the whole time, but it fails in the same way as the first story did. You see how this society doesn’t work, but you are never given a glimpse of what it should or could be. Some characters want to strip Jeanine of her power, but someone else wisely questions the wisdom as another horrid leader will just take her place. The other issue I had with the story was the change of character’s motives and actions from the first movie. One character goes from “good” to “bad” and back to “good” again by the time the film is over. Tris is harsh and bossy while Four, who was so tough in the first movie, is now just trying to keep the peace and avoid his mother.

The movie ends on a much better note that the first film, but the joy you feel is fleeting as you wonder, “Is that all there is?” It is like telling a morality play that has no moral to learn at the end. But the special effects are pretty neat though.

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‘Divergent’ is a Good Movie Without a Point

posted by jtotey
Relax Beatrice (Shailene Woodley) it's only a dream. (Summit Entertainment)

Relax Beatrice (Shailene Woodley) it’s only a dream. (Summit Entertainment)

What is it with teens and dystopian thrillers? They are depressing, full of teen angst and the storylines are obsessed with death. But the books have been huge hits so therefore movies must be made.

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When viewing Divergent, it is easy to compare it to The Hunger Games. The two deal with class and are both pretty violent. However, the premise of Divergent is more intriguing. The story is set in a future version of Chicago where buildings and skyscrapers are in shambles. This society has been broken up into five factions that are based on human virtues. In our real world, every person has a little bit of every virtue in them, but in future Chicago, people are assumed to fit in one faction only.

The five factions are:

  • Abnegation – Selfless people who wear grey clothing, never look too long in the mirror and are the ones that run the government.
  • Amity – People who are lovey-dovey and would rather pretend that everything is peachy keen instead of feeling anger
  • Dauntless – Crazy, but brave people willing to take chances and they are the ones who serve as the society’s police.
  • Candor – They are people who always tell the truth, but are not necessarily kind in the way that they do it. They wear black and white and see life that way too.
  • Erudites – These people are the super-smart ones and tend to conflict with the Abnegation people.

Those who don’t “fit in” within any of the five factions are either considered Factionless (basically homeless people) or Divergent (people who can think independently and therefore are considered a threat).

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Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) and her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) were born into a Abnegation family. Their father Andrew (Tony Goldwyn) and mother Natalie (Ashley Judd) serve as leaders. When children in this certain society reach a certain age, they are given a choice to continue living within their known faction or adopt a new faction. However, if they do choose a new faction, they must not associate with their former family. To their parent’s dismay, Beatrice, changes her name to Tris and becomes Dauntless. Caleb chooses Erudite.

The story then continues following Tris as she goes through a boot camp-like environment. Unfortunately, the Dauntless have recently changed their policy and did not let the new recruits know ahead of time: Those who are not up to snuff are kicked out of the Dauntless club and will become factionless. To make matters worse, Tris is informed that she is actually a Divergent and needs to keep quiet about it.

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Meanwhile, there is building tension between the faction leaders. Abnegation are accused of stealing food and Jeanine (Kate Winslet), leader of the Erudites, feels that she is smarter and could do a better job in power.

For the most part, Divergent starts out strong, than lags in the middle and then picks up again near the end. Though the set up is strong, the end result is not. You see, participants in this new world are tested frequently to make sure that they who they say they are. They are given a strange serum that makes them dream crazy dreams. But here’s the deal. When Tris dreams, she is strong enough to know that none of what she is seeing is real and therefore able to wake up quicker than others – a sign that she has a mind of her own. One of her trainers, Four (Theo James), wants to know how she “escaped” so quickly. Apparently, no body else knows how to do that and her test results will be a dead giveaway of her true nature if she doesn’t reform. That’s it. That’s her special ability. With all the build up, you would think that it would be something greater. This is where The Hunger Games stands out as a better film. Its storyline gets stronger as the story goes on whereas Divergent, ends with no real payoff. We know that this system of living doesn’t work, but we aren’t given a better alternative either.

Of course, this I just one film in the proposed four-film series, but at the end you’re left feeling like, “this is it?” There must be more to this dystopian life.

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‘One Big Happy’ is a Mess

posted by jtotey
Elisha Cuthbert as Lizzy, Nick Zano as Luke and Kelly Brook as Prudence in "One Big Happy" (Photo by: Eric McCandless/NBC)

Elisha Cuthbert (Lizzy) just announced that she is pregnant while Luke (Nick Zano) and Prudence (Kelly Brook) announce that they got married. in “One Big Happy.” (Photo by: Eric McCandless/NBC)

I am not one to just to jump on the bandwagon when it comes to conspiracy theories about Hollywood, but NBC’s latest sitcom has given me pause. However, those like me who are concerned about the messages shared in One Big Happy shouldn’t be too concerned. It won’t be around for long. The show has too many flaws to be a hit. Instead, it should be titled, “What’s a Nice Cast Like You Doing with a Script Like This?”

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Beside the fact that this show is not funny, (more on that later), it has an offensive premise. Lizzy (Elisha Cuthbert) and Luke (Nick Zano) are lifelong and best friends. They’ve been through a lot together and they would make for a great couple except for the fact that Lizzy is a lesbian. Still, the two play house together and after some heavy thinking, the two have the brilliant idea to have a baby together. Because…why not? However, the two don’t have sex together (they have their standards after all), they plan to have a baby the new-fashioned way.

Somewhere down the line we as a society have accepted the fact that having babies is a fun hobby and raising them in a stable environment is unnecessary. Are these two so naive to think that they will be together forever? Of course not. Both want to fall in love with someone else and when they do, they can take turns raising the baby or something. But hold on – it gets worse. On a night out, Luke meets free-spirited Prudence (Kelly Brook) from England. Of course Luke brings her to his home to have sex because the act of sex between strangers is completely normal. Then it turns out that she is an illegal alien who will be deported if she doesn’t get married. No problem! Luke is pretty sure that he loves her and within days, they get married in Vegas.

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So, what’s this father-to-be and new husband to do now? Suggest that they all live together to become, (everyone say it together), “one big happy” family or a resemble facsimile. This isn’t a marriage anymore than it is a family but it should make for a funny situation comedy – right? Wrong. The pilot episode’s jokes are either tacky, tasteless or just lame. For an example, Prudence is very comfortable with her body and walks around the house naked. Lizzy is understandably uncomfortable with this and makes a few comments about finding “vagina coasters” since the new housemate tends to sit anywhere she pleases. Call me old fashioned, but I don’t appreciate vagina jokes.

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The cast also includes Brandon Mychal Smith, Rebecca Corry and Chris Williams, which are all fine, but none of them really add much to the show. In fact, the best thing about this show is the casting. Together they could make a really funny comedy. Just not this one.

Much of the blame for this show should go to Ellen DeGeneres who served as Executive Producer and Director of the pilot episode. I actually like DeGeneres even though I don’t agree with everything she says or does. For the most part, she is a great comedian, a terrific host for the Oscars and does a fine job with her day time talk show. She is who she is, but she isn’t offensive, at least not usually. I really don’t understand why she thought this show was worth investing in. After watching it, you’ll wonder too.

One Big Happy airs on Tuesdays at 9:30 a.m. on NBC.

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‘Cinderella’ is an Improved Masterpiece

posted by jtotey
Cinderella (Lily James) and the prince (Richard Madden) meet for the first time. (Walt Disney Pictures)

Cinderella (Lily James) and the prince (Richard Madden) meet for the first time. (Walt Disney Pictures)

Sometimes Disney outdoes Disney. When news broke that Walt Disney Pictures was going to  make a live action version of one of their most popular animated movies, many were skeptical. The original is such a classic, how could it be improved? Or worse – what if it they failed miserably? Disney’s last attempt of re-inventing Sleeping Beauty with Maleficent was met with mixed reviews. They won’t be having that same problem with this one.

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The 2015 Cinderella will exceed just about everyone expectations for the film. Yes, it’s that good.  Even those who are not fans of the original will find this one hard to like. All those questions you’ve had like “Why did Cinderella allow herself to be bullied like that? Why didn’t she leave? Did she really expect a prince to come a save her?” are answered.

There really isn’t anything new to the story. In fact, this version features a few items found in the original folklore stories that are not featured in the 1951 cartoon. However, the prince (Richard Madden) gets a lot more screen time this time around and we get to know his character a lot more. There is also a surprisingly sweet scene between him and his father (Derek Jacobi) giving him a lot more to his personality.

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Madame (Cate Blanchett) looks on as the royal attendant tries on the glass slippers of her daughters (Sophia McShera and Holliday Grainger)

Madame (Cate Blanchett) looks on as the royal attendant tries on the glass slippers of her daughters (Sophia McShera and Holliday Grainger)

All of the characters are excellent in this movie, though a few scenes do come close to having a bit more than a spoonful of sugar. Even the mice, which are obviously CGI, still act like mice and since real mice don’t talk, neither do they.The movie could have gone overboard with the critters, but they smartly showed restraint.

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Lily James portrays the perfect Cinderella. Parents will be thrilled to have her be a role model for their children. She tries hard to see the best in people, she is always kind, she has courage to speak her mind and grace to not be cruel or offensive when doing so. She is a hard-worker. If more Christians could be like her, this would be a much better world.

The polar opposite is the deliciously mean stepmother (Cate Blanchett) who is both elegant and tacky at the same time. Her cackle of a laugh is something else. She is always wearing green which suits her because her cruel motivations make more sense to be driven by envy instead of hatred. Likewise, The ugly stepsisters Drisella (Sophia McShera) and Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) are not ugly on the outside but hideous on the inside. They are completely unaware how awful they sound when they talk. Their mother loves them, but doesn’t exactly like them.

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The Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter)

The Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter)

Finally, the icing on the cake belongs to the wonderful Helena Bonham Carter who plays the Fairy Godmother in a way that only she can. She’s eccentric,loving and imperfect. She uses the magic words, “Bibbidi, bobbidi boo” with great aplomb, and although she doesn’t sing in the movie, she does sing the magical song during the credits. It should also be noted that the weight of her magic pales in comparison to the strength of Cinderella’s character. It’s really the way it should be.

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Cinderella is directed by Kenneth Branagh. It is his first fairy tale, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it isn’t his last. Every aspect of the this movie has the perfect feel and look – everything from the soundtrack music to the costumes. (Expect to see the movie listed as one of next year’s nominees for best costume design for the Oscars.)The movie is rated PG, but I don’t know why. There is nothing scary or inappropriate for little ones to see. Though it might be tough to pull your boys to see this film, but if they go, they are sure to like it as much as their sisters.

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