Week Late Movie Review: Divergent

Divergent isn't the kind of movie I would choose to go see, but there was no way I wasn't going to see it My wife has been infatuated with the books for years and was in an almost Daily Countdown excitement for the movie to come out. After seeing it, however, I will say it was one of the better adapted YA novel to hit the theaters, but when you consider the competitors in that category, Twilight, The Mortal Instruments, Vampire Academy, that isn't saying much.

The film, based on the book of the same name, tells the story of Tris, a girl living in a decrepit society, torn apart by...something. Some kind of great war. To ensure the disaster never happens again, citizen are divided into factions based on their personalities. Five factions in total; Abnegation (whose role is to help others and also act as the main governing body), Erudite (the extremely smart such as scientists and teachers), Candor (people who speak their mind and tell the truth, ironically portrayed as lawyers), Amity (farmers), and Dauntless (the fearless who act as the cities soldiers). People are placed in factions based on a test they are given but are free to choose their own faction if they feel the test results were wrong. However, the test is not always reliable, as in Tris' case. Some people can't be pegged so easily and are listed as "Divergent". The city fears these Divergents as they throw off the balance of society.

Tris was born into Abnegation but, unhappy with her life, chooses the life of Dauntless. Most of the movie focuses on her training and how she manages to bring herself up from skinny girl to fearless soldier. But the final test the Dauntless have to endure threatens to expose her as a Divergent, which would lead to her being captured and killed.

I was surprised that I enjoyed the movie as much as I did, expecting little more than necessary to entertain a tweenage girl, but that didn't stop me from finding the flaws within the film.

Caution: Spoilers ahead.

The movie also features Jai Courtney doing a spot-on
Macklemore impression
The crux of the movie is based on a plot of the Erudite to take control of the government from Abnegation. They imply that the leaders of Abnegation are committing crimes that threaten society. What those crimes are, however, is never mentioned. Are they embezzling funds? Waterboarding terrorists? Having illicit late-night affairs? In the end, though, it doesn't matter. My wife tells me that they go into much more detail in the books, but I guess the filmmakers would have had to cut too much of Tris' training montage to shoehorn a single line of dialogue helping audiences to understand what Abnegation has done that's so bad. (But I guess I can look at it the other way and say that Erudite's mission is so corrupt that they don't need a reason. But they do have reasons. So it should be explained.)

A few of my gripes don't even correspond to the movie but with the concepts Veronica Roth opens up in her book. The city is in complete disrepair, buildings crumbling, people living in makeshift housing, yet they only institute five factions, none of which would be useful to repair the city. There's also the Factionless, those who can't be placed or couldn't hack it in any of the other factions, who are treated as the dregs of society since they don't contribute. Wouldn't introducing a new faction, Journeymen or something, help to alleviate some of this? People that work with their hands, carpenters, masons, steelworkers, that can put the city back together? Cars exist in this world. They are drivable. So where do they get the fuel to drive them? I doubt the Erudite are digging for petroleum. Abnegation isn't converting it to gasoline. So where does it come from? Again, this might be something that Roth addresses in later books but for now, this just sticks out to me as being a massive oversight on the world leaders.

I'm not trying to put down the world Roth has built here. She's created a fairly believable dystopian future, one that was brought down by the hubris of man instead of some kind of machine uprising. In a world where the "I'm right and everyone else is wrong" mentality reigns, it's easy to see our society toppling under the weight of mankind's selfishness. And Roth has managed to devise an acceptable way to cure that. Not by limiting procreation and government-assigned roles, a la Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, but instead by making people believe they have a choice. It's the illusion of free will that keeps everyone in line, which is what makes Divergents such a danger.

One thing that is important to note is the example Tris sets for young girls. Not just through the efforts of Shailene Woodley, who pulled off the transformation of wimp to bad-ass pretty convincingly, but also with the way Tris handles herself. In one scene, she is over powered by a group of Dauntless who are in fear of failing out of the faction so they attack Tris to take her out of the running. She fights back, telling them that they have no right to touch her. In a later scene, we see one of Tris’ fears is being raped, taken advantage of by someone she cares about. It’s a great example because it shows that this fear is normal. But in the same breath it empowers girls to understand that they don’t have to be forced into something by someone they care about. It’s OK to fight back if a situation makes them uncomfortable. It’s a powerful message to send to a Young Adult audience, and unfortunately, a necessary one.

At the end of it, Divergent is a pretty good big-screen adaptation. It's got all the makings of a big budget popcorn flick to help revitalize the motion picture industry but doesn't get  mired down or rely too heavily on needless CGI. (Most of the movie seemed to be made using practical effects with the exception of one scene involving Tris ziplining through collapsing buildings.) If you're a fan of the books, you're likely to enjoy the film as well, and probably be willing to overlook the shortcomings. If you've never read the books, you'll enjoy the movie for what it is but probably have a few questions by the end. 


TV Review: Cosmos

Sunday was such a busy day for television that there was no way I would be able to enjoy everything that I wanted to in one day. I did manage to check out the premiere episode of Resurrection on ABC and the latest episode of Spike TV's Bar Rescue. However, one show that I really wanted to wtach on Sunday was Cosmos: A Spacetime Oddessy on Fox. Hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, Cosmos is a 21st century update to the 1980 Carl Sagan show of the same name. So when I came home from work Monday evening, I fired up the old DVR to check out the debut episode.

The show follows a similar model of Sagan's Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, with Tyson zipping around the universe on the "Spaceship of Imagination". The first third of the episode introduces viewers to the grand scheme of things, visiting our solar system, galaxy, and the observable universe as a whole. Tyson provides insight into definitions of most everything, explaining why our human minds can't even comprehend the vastness of our universe.

After this, the show begins to narrow, giving viewers a history lesson paired in the form of some stylized animations. The purpose of these segments is to teach about the pioneers of science as we know it, with the debut episode focusing on Giordano Bruno, the 16th century philosopher who first defied all conventional knowledge by introducing the idea that the Universe goes far beyond what was believed.

I really liked how they used the show as a tribute to the late Carl Sagan. The showmakers took a sound clip of Sagan from the original run, making his the first voice the viewers hear. It was also a nice touch that the first shot is of Tyson on the same cliff that Sagan stood on to introduce his show 34 years ago. Both were very nice touches that honored a pioneer in the field and made learning about science, the world and the universe cool.

The first half of the episode was slightly awkward to watch. The CGI Universe that Tyson explored and the constantly swelling orchestral soundtrack made the show feel more like a movie that you watch on the ceiling at the Planetarium rather than a prime-time show dedicated to teaching science. Luckily, it settles into an easier stride and becomes engrossing as it pinpoints on its subject. I'm not saying that I didn't enjoy the first act; I was absolutely engrossed by it. My problem was just with the vast universe that they showed, and the CGI that was used really defined that this show is educational over everything else.

The wonder of Cosmos is that it brings these insane concepts, things that people always wonder about but never have the energy to actually learn, to the forefront, making the information available to everyone. But Cosmos takes the information and breaks it down in simple, easy-to-digest pieces instead of stacking everything on top of people's plates. In light of the recent "debate" between science enthusiast Bill Nye and creationist Ken Hamm, it's clear that regular availability to scientific information is necessary and I'm hoping that Cosmos becomes the source for that.

I also don't think there's an irony in the show being sponsored by Samsung Galaxy...or maybe there is.


TV Review: Resurrection

A boy wakes up in a rice field in rural China. He has no idea how he got there, but he manages to make it back home to the United States. There, he catches the attention of J. Martin Bellamy of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Bellamy takes the boy back to his family in Arcadia, Missouri only to learn that the boy died 32 years ago.

All of this happens in the first ten minutes of Resurrection, the new show on ABC. Based on the promotional blitz for Resurrection, it would seem the network has a lot riding on it being a success. Commercials counting down the minutes to the premiere aired all throughout the newest episode of Once Upon A Time, to the point of becoming tiresome. So either ABC really believes that Resurrection is prime-time's second coming (see what I did there?) or they'll lose some big money if it fails.

The mystery behind the show is intriguing. People miraculously returning from the dead is definitely the kind of thing that makes me interested in finding out more. And the first episode doesn't give any insight as to what happened to Jacob, the little boy who came back from the dead. It also opens up a few other questions, like what if the dead could talk?

We learn that the day Jacob died, his aunt drowned with him. Jacob's family is under the impression that he fell into the river first and his aunt tried to save him. However, Jacob's story sheds a different light on the situation, claiming that his aunt went into the river first, and it was he who tried to save her. He also says that someone else was at the river that day. This throws the family's beliefs into disarray, contradicting everything they've accept for the last three decades. And it's not an easy pill to swallow for them either; we see that it throws their family dynamic into turmoil and dredges up secrets from the past.

I watched the show because of the cast. Omar Epps, best know for his role as Foreman on House, plays Bellamy. He takes the first episode in stride, giving the mystery of the return of a dead boy as much straight-faced questioning as he can. He comes off as skeptical, unsure of what to make of his situation. Epps plays the role well enough but always seems to be a misplaced Foreman. His lack of emotion isn't uncharacteristic given Bellamy's detachment to the situation, but doesn't always seem natural.

Kurtwood Smith plays Henry Langston, Jacob's aged father. Smith manages to outshine Epps with his nuanced emotions; the sight of his dead son returning to him is borderline heart-wrenching. He's completely torn on the revelation; he wants this boy to be his son but his logical side knows that it's not possible. We get a scene of Henry revisiting a memory, a happier time with Jacob, and it overwhelms him. It's how we would expect a parent to react when confronted with the impossible as Henry is, and Smith is remarkable in the role.

My problem with Resurrection, and it's a big one, is what it's trying to accomplish. It seems that the show is tugging on the heartstrings of sentimentality. And though the circumstances surrounding Jacob's return are indeed mysterious, the cast points this out at every opportunity. My concern, though, is that once the mystery is solved, the show loses everything that makes it interesting. But by dragging it on for too long, it runs the risking of irritating its viewers who hunger for answers. So how does ABC make a show like this work?

Having such an open concept, Resurrection needs intriguing characters to keep viewers interested. From the first episode, however, I'm not seeing that this is the case. We get a bunch of people that we want to like, like the elderly couple that lost their son 32 years ago and chose to remain childless after that, but they really haven't shown me anything that would keep me interested. Also, take Bellamy; he was a cop that became an ICE agent. That's all we know about him. We can tell he's got a soft spot for kids and his wife/girlfriend recent left him, but other than that, he's pretty much a blank slate.

I'm not sure how well Resurrection would fare in the current climate of network television. It's got a strong enough premise to do pretty well, and may manage to capture the hang-around Once Upon A Time viewers. But the main problem is that it's too philosophical, tackling a subject matter that would make too many people uncomfortable. Of course, ABC hasn't shied away from philosophical in the past, making Lost a runaway success for six years. OK, five years. If Resurrection manages to capture even a fraction of the magic that Lost generated in its first season, then there shouldn't be a problem. The bad news is, that doesn't seem to be the case from the pilot.


Five Below Finds #1: The Endurance Test of the 90s

I love Five Below. There's no reason to even mince words there. What I love about it is that they have a great revolving door of inventory and none of it more than $5. It's like an upscale dollar store except, you know, with stuff that you would actually want. Every time I go in there, my eyes fall on something new, something that I'd never seen before, like the Ninjabread Cookie Kit that I got around Christmas time. I buy so much interesting crap from there that I can start a new feature here at Caution: Idiot At Play showcasing all of that stuff. In fact, that's actually a pretty good idea!

You can tell it's Easter because of the hipster chicks.
When I walked into my North Brunswick Five Below this part weekend, the first thing I spotted was the Easter setup in the front of the store. With Easter just about a month away, they're making a hard push to sell all of the essential basket stuffers like Peeps, Cadbury Creme Eggs and Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs. But what really caught my eye was down at the side, next to the Edible Easter Grass, segregated in tiny little buckets of like-minded candies. No, it wasn't the Smarties or the Sweet-Tarts. What I found was much, much better.

Atomic Fireballs and Cry Babies.

They're like tiny bags of memories.
If the majority of your childhood took place in the 90s like mine did, then you no doubt remember Atomic Fireballs and Cry Babies. These candies were everywhere in middle school. Seriously, they were pretty much the currency of the school yard. There wasn't any trouble you got into that you couldn't buy your way out of with a handful of Cry Babies.

Now, the Atomic Fireball far predates their wave of popularity in the 1990s. They were originally created by Ferrara Pan in the 1950s. It's basically a cinnamon-flavored jawbreaker but, true to its name, the cinnamon flavor is so intense that once you start sucking on it, it starts to burn your mouth. Cinnamon candy is kind of an acquired taste, mostly because of the burn associated with the flavor. Atomic Fireballs aren't the only cinnamon candy on the market but they are my favorite, if only for the nostalgia.

Cry Babies had themselves a different kind of burn. Made by Dubble Bubble, Cry Babies are a super sour gum that make you pucker as soon as they hit your tongue. Usually the sour part gets diluted once you start chewing the gum but you were usually so distracted by the pain to think about that. They come in a variety of flavors like...well, red, blue, green, yellow and orange. Yes, I know those are colors and not flavors but the gum is so intensely sour that the flavor is irrelevant. Cry Babies are similar to Fireballs in the sense that both of them really do a number on your mouth.

So why would a bunch of 12-year-olds want to deal in a candy that numbs their taste buds?

It became a sort of endurance test. Kids would dare each other to pop two or three candies at once and whoever could stand the pain the longest would win. I tried it a few times, with mostly mild success. But if you knew a kid that could kill three Fireballs at a time, beating out everyone else in the class, then you didn't mess with them. Even though the ability to stand having your mouth feel like you've lit an entire box of matches at once in it doesn't necessarily translate into physical prowess, you still knew better than to give that kid shit. You owed them that respect.

And let's not forget the kids with the entrepreneurial spirit who traded in candy. These are the kids that would convince their parents to buy them the big bag or even a tub of the single serve balls and take them to school to sell them for 25 cents apiece. Those kids would make a killing with how everyone fiended for Fireballs and Cry Babies.

So if you were a 90s kid like me and want to relive the burn you remember from Atomic Fireballs and Cry Babies, get yourself to Five Below. Not only do they have the definitive candies of your adolescence but they're only 10 cents a piece. Yeah, the price actually went down after 20 years, or least it compared to those soul-sucking, rip-off artists on the playground.


The Shamrock Shake is Back!

Okay, so, I know that technically the Shamrock Shake has been back for a couple of weeks now but I'm just getting around to writing this up. So sue me.

For those of you not familiar with the Shamrock Shake, let me explain. Every year, McDonald's celebrates St. Patrick's Day as best as they can; with a sugary, bad-for-you dessert item, dyed green for the holiday. The Shamrock Shake is a standard vanilla shake mixed with green, mint-flavored syrup and topped with whipped cream and a cherry. There's probably some magic dust in there as well, which is what makes it so delicious. Or PCP to make it addictive. Either way, I don't really care. All I know is the eleven-month wait until the Shamrock Shake comes back is always hell for me.

The Shake makes its debut right after Valentine's Day when McDonald's puts away all of their red-colored decorations and kicks into more important things. In the two weeks since the Shake has been back, I have already had five of them. Do I feel guilty for gorging myself on a delicious dessert so often in such a short amount of time? A little, but whatever. It's only around for a month so I gotta make it worth it.

What you may not know, however, is that the Shamrock Shake isn't new. It was first introduced in the 1970s as a limited time treat. McDonald's even introduced a new character into McDonaldland in the form of Grimace's Irish uncle, Uncle O'Grimacey. Check out the frightening yet nostalgic commercial! (Yeah, I know the quality is crap.)

Shamrock Shakes went away for a little bit but the fast food chain in all of their wisdom bowed down to popular demand and brought it back, and I couldn't be more grateful.

So if you're a fan of minty, fatty ice cream drinks and don't really care about your health for a month, I recommend swinging by your local McDonald's and grabbing yourself one. And no, McDonald's isn't paying me to write this, though I'm not gonna lie, I wish they were. I just love the Shamrock Shake and felt the need to express that love.
Look at that rippling! I don't think it's intentional but whatever!

No shake is complete without whipped cream and a cherry
UPDATE: If you're the kind of person that can admit to yourself that come Arpil you'll fall into a depression for the next 11 months (like me) then I have good news! Brian over at Going Geek News has managed to reverse engineer the genius of the Shamrock Shake and shared the results. You can now make your own Shamrock Shakes at home! So whether you need a fix and can't get to a McDonald's or your just a cheap jerk, you can take care of yourself with ease!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...