The Divergent Series: Allegiant

Diretor: Robert Schwentke (2016)

The third episode in this plodding sci-fi franchise grimly marches on to my general indifference.

Once again it looks fabulous, is filled with action and fizzes with great ideas. Thankfully there’s less abseiling, climbing and running than in previous instalments.

But it’s riddled with clumsy editing, needlessly fidgety camerawork, thin characters and leaden attempts at humour.

Touching on many modern concerns, the script has identity theft, genetic engineering, child exploitation, ethnic cleansing, ecological ruin, and personalised drone warfare.

All this good work collapses on itself due to a lack on underpinning logic, alarming plot holes and pedestrian performances.

Following on from the last film, called Insurgent (2015) for those of you still with us, the overthrow of Chicago’s brutal regime has resulted in mob rule, show trials and executions.

So freedom fighter Tris and her friends escape into the radioactive wasteland beyond the city wall.

Shailene Woodley has been brightest spark of the franchise but she seems unenthused by the never ending slog of supporting the seemingly never ending series.

They discover an advanced military city of gleaming spires, where they slowly learn the truth of Chicago’s horrific history.

Theo James plays Four, her curiously named romantic interest. Armed with a muscular pout  and great hair but no huge ability, he fails to limp convincingly.

Even the naturally combative and arrogant Miles Teller struggles to energise events as selfish sidekick Peter.

At least newcomer to the franchise, the veteran Jeff Daniels is reliably engaging.

He plays David, the softly spoken director of the sinister sounding Bureau of Genetic Welfare.

Violent blasts of music attempt to drown out the dull chorus of gunfire, explosions and painfully functional dialogue.

‘That doesn’t make any sense’ says Tris. It’s the only insightful line in the movie.

The Divergent Series: Insurgent

Director: Robert Schwentke (2015)

Welcome back to the future for the glossy second instalment of the dystopian action adventure quadrilogy.

Renegade heroine Tris returns to face a series of tests – but the biggest threat to success is herself.

Containing all the strengths and weaknesses of the first film, it balances handsome design and two great female performances with indifferent dialogue, silly stunts and a tiresome abundance of teenage posturing.

The decaying walled city is beautifully realised and accompanying uniforms, guns, trucks and technology are all heavily convincing.

Beginning where the last film ended, we’re quickly brought up to speed on the story before being thrust into the action.

Society is divided into five factions, each with it’s own role. Tris (Shailene Woodley) qualifies for more than one faction and therefore as a Divergent she is considered a threat to society.

Tris and her brother Caleb (Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort) are now outlaws. They’re hiding in the peaceful pastoral faction of Amity along with her boyfriend Tobias and friend Peter (Theo James and Miles Teller). It’s a creepy commune of niceness.

Guilt-ridden over her parent’s death, Tris suffers nightmares and scalps her hair in a self-harming act of penance. Her self-prescribed therapy for her anger is to take plenty of physical punishment through the film.

Back in the city, evil Erudite leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet) has obtained a box containing secrets that belonged to Tris’s mother.

In order to unlock it’s secrets, victims have black suspension cables plugged into them and are put into a dream-state. In this condition they have to pass five tests – one for each Faction.

We see their subconscious go maximum Inception with exploding digital buildings galore – and death in their dream means they die for real.

Realising only a Divergent will possess the qualities to open it, Jeanine sends sneering Dauntless commander Eric Coulter (Jai Courtney) to hunt down the renegades. She is convinced Tris is the best candidate and is determined to capture her.

His crack troops no know fear, no danger and no tactics – they can’t see a wall without abseiling down it and striking ferocious moonlit action poses. There’s lots of train-hopping action but despite a lot of fighting, there’s a general absence of blood or bruises.

Chased by Dauntless, the four split up. Peter turns traitor, Caleb goes home and Tris and Tobias plan to kill Jeanine.

En route they are captured by the Factionless – now a heavily armed rebel force lead by Tobias’s mother Evelyn (Naomi Watts). She asks them to join up. But when Jeanine implants her friends with remote controlled suicide devices, Tris has a difficult choice to make

Winslet wears a killer electric blue dress and Woodley aside has so much more presence than her co-stars. It’s a wonder she can’t crush the rebellion with a single exasperated sigh.

Woodley carries the film with a combination of physical strength and emotional vulnerability. It’s great to see two actresses in roles defined by their actions and not their gender – it’s a shame the film’s not deserving enough of them.

It’s a good job Theo James is so buff and handsome as he’s more than a little dull. He and Woodley share strikingly little chemistry – there’s far more spark between Woodley and Teller and even between Teller and Winslet. Teller’s strutting wind-up-merchant is the only engaging male performance.

No matter how hard the film works to surprise us – and it does work very hard – nothing ever throws us off balance as it prettily plods to the third instalment.

Two Night Stand

Director: Max Nichols (2015)

This sweet twenty-something rom-com is happier cuddling on the sofa than swinging from the chandeliers.

A pair of perky performers employ their personalities to massage some heat into the weak script. It’s observations on dating or life are not fresh, clever or funny enough.

Megan (Analeigh Tipton) is an unemployed med-school dropout. One evening she’s to be sex-iled for the evening by fun-loving Faiza (Jessica Szohr) and her hot boyfriend Cedric (Scott Mescudi).

Their rampant relationship exists to highlight what a sad loser Megan is for being single.

To get her out of the apartment they kindly suggest Megan goes online to search for a hookup; guilt-free casual sex with a stranger.

Signing up for the first time to a website, she quickly establishes a rapport with Alec (Miles Teller) and trots off to his place on the other side of New York.

He’s cocky, she’s ditzy and both are charming. Although it’s pleasant hanging out with the pair, our smiles never give way to laughter.

While trying to sneak out the morning after a night of passion, Megan accidentally wakes Alec up. Before Megan can say Meg Ryan they’re arguing – but an unexpected and heavy over night snowfall means she can’t leave the apartment.

Having fallen out but now forced to spend time together, they agree to pretend they didn’t have sex. They play ping pong, get high and build a den with fairy lights.

When Megan blocks the toilet and they break into next door to use the facilities, it’s a sign the script is straining; to keep us engaged and the couple at each other’s throats, not at each other’s pants.

But there’s only so much to occupy them before they are dragged by the gravity of romantic comedy back to the bedroom.

As the conversation returns to sex, they agree to critique last nights performances; discussing along the way topics such as whether girls should fake orgasms.

Generally the advice they share is not earth-moving but this is the standout scene. Otherwise neither have much to say.

Possibly through boredom, desperation or a desire to shut Alec up, Megan impulsively decides to road-test their advice.

Alec enthusiastically agrees. Forewarned is forearmed and their earlier critique leads to improved foreplay, as well as success in other departments.

As the medium to longterm outlook for the relationship seems full of promise, it’s discovered one of them has lied about their single status. There’s a fight, the snow storm abates and Megan heads home.

Once the snow is clear the script has little idea what to do and resorts to a New year’s Eve party and a night in the police cells. It jumps through hoops chasing a happy ending.

Two Night Stand takes a staggeringly optimistic view of online dating and raises unrealistic expectations of what one’s first online date will be like.

Rather than embracing its open approach to the singles sex scene it retreats to reinforce the persistently perpetuated myth of the perfect one existing somewhere for everybody.

For all it’s emphasis on honest talk, it never explains why Alec wakes up the morning after the night before wearing a T-shirt and boxer shorts.



Director: Damien Chazelle

Get ready yourself for duelling drumsticks in this blistering bee-bop battle that’s deservedly nominated for five Oscars – including Best Film.

When a menacing music master goes cymbal to cymbal with his drumming protégé, it’s as exhilarating and exhausting for us as for them.

Young Andrew Neiman, played by Miles Teller, is a scholar at the Shaffer Conservatory, the most highly respected music school in the US.

Inspired by the performances of the legendary band leader Buddy Rich, he dreams of being the greatest jazz drummer who ever lived.

But he’s tutored by the fearsome Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons) who demands perfection and is infamous for his torturous teaching technique.

Always dressed immaculately in black, Fletcher is a door-slamming, cymbal-slinging monster who relishes humiliating individual students in front of their classmates.

Hilariously vicious and intense, JK Simmons will surely add a Best Supporting Oscar to the Golden Globe and SAG award he’s already collected for his electric performance.

Though Neiman’s increasingly selfish behaviour provides for a cringing dinner table scene, Neiman’s treatment of pretty cinema cashier Nicole (Melissa Benoist) is where our attitude towards the musician becomes more complex.

His father Jim (Paul Reiser) is also ill-served by his son’s ambition which rears it’s head ever higher, taking advantage of the misfortune of classmates in the pursuit of his dream.

As well as giving up buckets of sweat, blood and tears, he has a car crash while preparing for sharp-suited public competitions. A classroom confrontation ends badly for both of the combatants.

Yet one last contest before an audience of prestigious and influential movers and shakers allows for a final battle of wills. It is centred around Fletcher’s favoured performance piece, Whiplash.

This thrilling drama is sharp, cruel and incredibly foulmouthed and when the final note is sounded, the ferocious acting and a terrifically powerful percussive score will leave your nerves as shredded as the actors’ bloodied, blistered fingers.