A new young adult film based on a best selling series of books is set in a world where diversity is frowned upon; sort of like Arizona without the dry heat.
In “Divergent” a Big Brother style government has divided the post-apocalyptic Chicago into five factions: the altruistic Abnegation sect, the peace loving Amity, the “I cannot tell a lie” Candor group, the militaristic arm Dauntless and the smarty-pants Erudites.
At age sixteen all citizens must submit to a personality test that will help them decide which faction they will join. “The future belongs to those who know where they belong,” is the Orwellian motto.
Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) is from an Abnegation family, but chooses to join Dauntless, the warrior faction charged with protecting the city. During the grueling training “Tris” meets future love interest Four (Theo James) who helps her disguise the fact that she is “divergent,” a person who cannot be pigeonholed into just one designation. “If you don’t fit into a category they can’t control you,” she is told.
“Divergent” feels like a greatest hits version of recent young adult stories. Mixing and matching “Hunger Games” with a taste of “Harry Potter” and a splash of “Twilight,” results in a new story that feels familiar, like a sequel to a movie that doesn’t exist.
The film does take pains in the first hour to establish a world, with a unique set of rules—like once you choose a faction you can’t go back—and then promptly proceeds to break their own guidelines. The disregard for the rubrics blunts the power of the story, changing it from a high concept sci fi idea to simply a shifting situation for the characters to exist in. It’s a state of affairs passing itself off as an idea.
That won’t matter to the film’s core audience, teens, who will be more interested in Tris’s grrrl power, the dynamic of the Dauntless recruits and Four, the movie’s heart throb. Director Neil Burger aptly juggles all these elements well, and despite the plot lapses and some bloodless action—a zip line aerial scene that should be visually spectacular doesn’t make the eyeballs dance like it could—but the film is a little darker and grittier than you’d expect from a blockbuster-to-be. It would have been interesting to see what a director with true futuristic vision, like Terry Gilliam, could have done with the material, but ultimately it’s not about dystopia.
The young adult story thrives off subtext and in this case it is more about family, being yourself and facing fears, all subjects that will resonate with the target audience louder than any sci fi premise.
“Divergent” is “Hunger Games” light, but Woodley and James bring some heat to the leads and it’s fun watching Kate Winslet sneering her way through a villainous role.
The news of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s sudden passing was met with a heartfelt outpouring of grief from fans and those who worked with him.
“Philip Seymour Hoffman was a singular talent and one of the most gifted actors of our generation,” Lionsgate, the studio behind the upcoming Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 and 2, said in a written statement. “We’re very fortunate that he graced our Hunger Games family. Losing him in his prime is a tragedy, and we send our deepest condolences to Philip’s family.”
Hoffman played head -games-maker-turned-rebel leader Plutarch Heavensbee in the successful series. It is a pivotal role.
In the wake of the actor’s death, questions arose as to whether the uncompleted blockbusters-in-waiting would be completed in time for their scheduled November 21, 2014 for Part 1 and November 20, 2015 for Part 2 release dates.
Hollywood studios have handled the sudden death of cast members in many different ways. In some cases, films are even abandoned.
Production on Something’s Got to Give was shut down permanently after Marilyn Monroe’s August 1962 barbiturate overdose.
Dark Blood, River Phoenix’s final film, was put into cold storage when the young actor died before filming several crucial scenes. But both movies were eventually resurrected. The documentary Marilyn: The Final Days used footage from Monroe’s aborted film while Dark Blood sat for 19 years before being finished and shown at film festivals.
Father and son Bruce and Brandon Lee both died early, leaving behind unfinished films. The elder martial arts legend had completed 100 minutes of The Game of Death when a cerebral edema took his life.
Even more tragically, Brandon was killed on the set of The Crow in an accident involving a prop handgun.
Both films were salvaged with the use of stand-ins.
When Oliver Reed collapsed of a heart attack at a Malta pub after out-drinking a group of Royal Navy sailors, the editing crew of Gladiator replaced him digitally in the remaining scenes of the film.
More recently, Heath Ledger unexpectedly died during the production of The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. He was replaced in the surreal story by three actors.
“I just started calling friends of Heath,” director Terry Gilliam said. “It’s as simple as that.”
“Johnny (Depp), Colin (Farrell) and Jude (Law) turned up. It was important that they were friends, because I wanted to keep it in the family. I wanted people who were close to him because, as Colin said when he was doing his part, he was channelling Heath part of the time, so Heath was very much still alive in some sense.
“Contractually, it was supposed to be a Terry Gilliam Film,” said Gilliam. “That’s what the lawyers said, but I said, ‘No way it’s going to be that. It’s going to be a film from Heath Ledger and friends.’ The cast sat around one night and that idea came up and I said, ‘This is it. Perfect. That’s how we do it.’”
As for the upcoming Hunger Games films, reports now confirm that Hoffman completed work on Part 1 and had just seven days left of shooting on Part 2.
His absence will not require any recasting, just a rewrite of one scene. And so Mockingjay Part 2 becomes the final film in Hoffman’s remarkable career.
“Words cannot convey the devastating loss we are all feeling right now. Philip was a wonderful person and an exceptional talent, and our hearts are breaking,” reads a statement released by The Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins, the films’ director Francis Lawrence, producers Nina Jacobson and Jon Kilik and star Jennifer Lawrence.
I’m glad I saw the first “Hunger Games” movie because I’m not sure if I would have a clue as to what was going on if I didn’t have that background. I may have been taken in by the beautiful art direction, or Jennifer Lawrence’s intense performance, but I don’t think I would have been able to connect all the dots. Plot points become more obvious in the second hour, but for non-Hungerites it might be confusing.
If you haven’t seen the first movie, or read one of the 26 million copies of the book that are currently in print, here’s a glossary of terms to get you up to speed.
Katniss Everdeen: Sixteen year-old protagonist and citizen of District 12, a poor mining area in the dystopian nation of Panem.
Peeta Mellark: A baker’s son, who, according to Wikipedia has “extensive strength and cake decorating skills that contributed to the art of camouflage.”
Both are “tributes” chosen from the young people of District 12 and forced to participate in an annual Hunger Games, The Hunger Games, an annual televised event in which one teenaged boy and girl from each districts surrounding the Capitol are chosen by lottery to fight to the death until only one remains.
There’s more, but you’ll figure it out.
In the new film combatants and sweethearts Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) have returned from the 74th Annual Hunger Games victorious to become the toast of the nation. While on a Victory Tour to Panem’s various downtrodden districts, revolution is in the air. They see Katniss as a symbol of freedom, which, of course, doesn’t sit well with President Snow (Donald Sutherland), the country’s autocratic leader. To quell the revolution he and his head gamesmaker (Philip Seymour Hoffman) devise the trickiest Hunger Games yet, the Quarter Quell that will pit former winners against one another in the battle to the death. If Snow gets his way Katniss will be killed and the revolution squashed.
“Hunger Games: Catching Fire” is a better movie than the first installment.
Set decorated and costumed (as played by Elizabeth Banks, District 12 minder Effie Trinket has the most elaborate futurist art deco costumes since “Metropolis”) to within an inch of its life, but has nonetheless has a gritty edge. It doesn’t feel like a budget big franchise movie and that’s a good thing,
Visually as well as thematically it has more edge than any of the recent Marvel movies. And it skirts around the thing that upset many people about the first movie—the idea of kids killing kids—by setting the action between former victors ranging in age from 20s to 70s.
It creates a world with it’s own rules, style and customs and does so convincingly. In part it’s comprised of things we’ve seen before in everything from the human sacrifices of Greek Mythology to reality television to stories of government corruption on the news, but author Suzanne Collins and director Francis “I Am legend” Lawrence tie it together to create something new.
In many ways it breaks the mold of what we expect from a young adult a blockbuster. The focus is on the characters and the underpinning of romance that snakes throughout the story. The action sequences are few and far between and it takes almost an hour before any of Katniss’s trademark bow-and-arrow dexterity comes into play. (Silly complaint: the number of arrows in her quiver changes from shot to shot! Just when you think she’s out, arrows magically appear.)
Sure there’s poison fog, angry animals and vicious victors but it’s about survival and relationships not the wholesale slaughter of the characters. It’s grim, shot in hues of grey with a perpetually overcast sky, which lends it a classic feel, more like 1970s sci fi than the brightly couloured eye catchers Hollywood makes these days.
“Hunger Games: Catching Fire” has a who’s who of a cast—Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Jena Malone, Brit heartthrob Sam Claflin and Amanda Plummer—who all perform well, lending some gravitas to the story, but it is carried by Lawrence whose vision for Katniss is as straight as an arrow.