A weekly feature from from ctvnews.ca! The Crouse Review is a quick, hot take on the weekend’s biggest movies! This week Richard looks at the Charlize Theron in the mothering dramedy “Tully,” the political drama “Backstabbing for Beginners” and the down ‘n dirty flick “Lowlife.”
Richard joins CP24 anchor Nick Dixon to have a look at the weekend’s new movies including the Charlize Theron in the mothering dramedy “Tully,” the political drama “Backstabbing for Beginners” and the down ‘n dirty flick “Lowlife.”
Richard sits in with CTV NewsChannel anchor Marcia MacMillan to have a look at the weekend’s big releases, the new Charlize Theron mothering dramedy “Tully,” the political drama “Backstabbing for Beginners” and the down ‘n dirty flick “Lowlife.”
The name “Backstabbing for Beginners” sounds like a nasty teen drama, a high school how to on how to survive in the mean hallways of twelfth grade. “Mean Girls” with an edge. Instead, it’s a political drama, the kind of thriller that relies more on the cerebral inner workings of backroom manoeuvrings than the kind of things the newspapers write about. Proving the old adage that everything is high school, however, it turns out the two milieus are not dissimilar.
Based on the memoirs of Michael Soussan, the film details the corruption within the United Nations Oil-for-Food program during the early years of the Iraq War. Theo James is Michael, a principled but naive aide to an influential U.N. undersecretary Pasha (Ben Kingsley). A greenhorn, he is soon schooled in the crafty way Pasha does business. “The first rule of diplomacy,” says the older man, “is that the truth is not a matter of fact but a matter of consensus.” As the United Nations Iraq War-era Oil-for-Food program goes south Michael begins to poke around into the suspicious death of his predecessor. Coming into the orbit of Nashim (Belcim Bilgin) Michael struggles with where his loyalties should lie.
“Backstabbing for Beginners” isn’t a thrill ride. Deliberately paced, it covers a lot of ground. To guide the viewer through the story’s socio-political unpredictability Danish director Per Fly layers exposition throughout, in the form of explanatory dialogue and narration. He limits the detail to the ins and outs of what turns out to be a global conspiracy, but it slows down the action, sucking away much of the tale’s inherent tension.
The conspiracy and whistleblowing does not provide the rollercoaster ride it could have been but it provides Kingsley with the opportunity to chew the scenery. It’s a plum role for the 74 year-old actor who unleashes a controlled but spirited performance as the morally compromised, foul mouthed Pasha. It’s also a pleasure to see Jacqueline Bisset as his nemesis, a stern enemy who isn’t afraid to get under the skin of the undiplomatic diplomat.
“Backstabbing for Beginners’s” story of corruption from our recent past, complete with Pasha’s self-serving doublespeak about the “the growing pains of a new democracy,” is timely, if not exciting.
Richard and CP24 anchor host Nneka Elliot have a look at he weekend’s big releases, the Spike Lee satire “Chi-Raq,” the young adult dystopia of “The Divergent Series: Allegiant Pt. 1” and the Lance Armstrong biopic “The Program.”
Richard and “Canada AM” host host Beverly Thomson have a look at the weekend’s big releases: the Spike Lee satire “Chi-Raq,” the young adult dystopia of “The Divergent Series: Allegiant Pt. 1,” the Lance Armstrong biopic “The Program,” and “Knight of Cups,” the new Terrence Malick paint drier.
Where have all the movie stars gone? Once upon a time big names on even bigger marquees were as close to a guarantee of good box office as one gets in the movie biz, but no more.
This weekend The Divergent Series: Allegiant, the third part of the young adult series, hit theatres. Based on a series of successful books, it stars Shailene Woodley and Theo James in a teen epic about dystopia, guilt and artfully tossed pixie haircuts. In the new film the pair risk it all to go beyond the walls of their shattered city to discover the truth about their troubled world.
Woodley and James are appealing performers and despite having chiselled cheekbones, a Golden Globe nomination and a Teen Choice Award for Choice Movie: Liplock between them no one is going to see Allegiant because they’re in it. Why? Because they’re not movie stars, they’re brand ambassadors. The movie’s brand is bigger than they are and that’s the draw.
Young adult movies like Twilight made Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart famous and superhero films reignited Robert Downey Jr.’s career and turned Chris Hemsworth into a sex symbol, but none of these actors have scored recent hits outside of their best-known brands.
These days the marketing is more important than the movie star.
It’s almost a throwback to the very early days of cinema when actors weren’t given billing or publicized for the films they made. Fearing performers would demand larger paycheques if they became popular the studios gave them nicknames instead. Hamilton, Ontario born Florence Lawrence was known as the Biograph Girl, named after the studio that produced her films, but with the release of The Broken Oath in 1910 became the first entertainer to have her name appear in the credits of a film.
Floodgates opened, soon names like Mary Pickford (another Biograph Girl), Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin festooned not only movie credits but posters as well, usually above the title. The studios seized the marketing value of their actors and for years the star system was a money-spinner.
These stars were so powerful they not only sold tickets by the fistful but also influenced contemporary trends. For instance, it’s rumoured that sales of men’s undershirts plummeted in 1934 when The King of Hollywood, Clark Gable, was seen without one in It Happened One Night. As the legend goes, sales took such a hit several underwear manufacturers tried, unsuccessfully, to sue Columbia Pictures for damages.
For decades stars ruled supreme at the box office, but the business has changed. I’m guessing the movie studios love it because no film brand ever asked for more money or a bigger trailer.
Certainly Tom Cruise can still sell a ticket or three, but only if his movie has the words Mission Impossible in the title and Matt Damon was brought back in to add star sparkle to the new Jason Bourne movie after a lackluster reboot with Jeremy Renner. Jennifer Lawrence is a movie star. Her latest film Joy, the empowering story of a woman and her mop, wasn’t a big hit but without her star power would likely never have been made at all.
It’s not just the movie business’s attitude toward fame that has changed, it’s also ours. Today a proliferation of YouTube superstars and social media has democratized fame and in a world and business where everyone is famous, no one truly is, not even the stars of a blockbuster like The Divergent Series: Allegiant.
“The Divergent Series,” the film franchise birthed from the Veronica Roth’s teen dystopian novels, have always seemed like “Hunger Games” wannabes but the new one, “Allegiant,” will leave no one hungry for more.
The backstory: 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. Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) is from an Abnegation family, but chooses to join Dauntless, the warrior faction charged with protecting the city. During her training it’s discovered she is divergent, a person who cannot be pigeonholed into just one designation.
The second film “Insurgent” saw Tris, her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and boyfriend Four (Theo James) escape the world of factions and live off the grid. They are fugitives from Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet), the head of the Erudite faction and an evil brainiac who desperately wants to get her hands on Tris. As a 100% divergent Tris is one of the few who can unlock the secrets of a mysterious box that holds the key to the future of humanity. As revolution brews against Janine, and the fascism of the factions, Tris does the only thing she can do to stop the bloodshed.
That’s the story so far. If you’re still interested and with us, you’re up to speed.
The new film continues Tris’s quest to find out what the heck’s going on. For the first time the core players—Tris, Four, Caleb and a handful of others—go beyond the wall that separates Chicago from the rest of the world. “It’s time to break from the past,” they say in their quest to find a peaceful resolution to the chaos that has characterized their young lives. What they discover is a barren, red-stained place where it rains crimson—“Great! The sky is bleeding!”—and the ground is toxic. Luckily folks who welcome them to the future rescue them. (On a side note, isn’t the future their own present? When does the future become the present and vice versa?) The Chicagoans are detoxified and taken to an oasis built in the former O’Hare Airport to meet a new leader, the charismatic David (Jeff Daniels). Soon, however, they must ask themselves if this new, seemingly utopian society is that much different from the one they left behind? Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
“The Divergent Series: Allegiant” is as interesting as you would imagine a movie largely set in an airport would be. Opening up the story to include the world beyond the walls should have presented opportunities to expand the story in interesting ways, but in this case more is less. The story limps along, ripe with dialogue exchanges that wouldn’t be other place in a 1980s Jean-Claude Van Damme flick—“ It’s impossible.” “So?” “So… I’ll make it happen.”—talk of genetic tampering and social commentary about how building walls to separate people won’t work (Are you listening Mr. Trump?). Instead of deepening the story the extra stuff muddles whatever point the movie was trying to make in the first place. Like an overcrowded freeway, the amount of traffic, story wise in the film, slows everything down to a stop.
Perhaps it’s because “The Divergent Series: Allegiant – Part 1” is one book cleaved into two movies or maybe it’s because director Robert Schwentke treats this film as a long set up to a finale but none of the new material makes much of an impact. Add to that generic special effects and you’re left with a story that isn’t as divergent from the rest of the YA pack as it would like to be.