Tag Archives: Shailene Woodley

Back to the Future

Hot youth reunite in grim dystopia for part two of ‘Divergent’ trilogy

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Insurgent

Starring Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Kate Winslet & Theo James

Directed by Robert Schwentke

PG-13

 

What’s in the box?

That’s the question that drives the plot of the second movie based on author Veronica Roth’s young-adult Divergent trilogy about love, loyalty, politics and identity in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic Chicago.

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Shailene Woodley, Theo James & Ansel Elgort

Shalene Woodley returns as Tris, a “Divergent” who doesn’t fit into any of the dystopian society’s other rigidly prescribed factions based on personality and aptitude: Abnegation (selflessness), Amity (peacefulness), Candor (honesty), Dauntless (bravery) and Erudite (intelligence). As the movie opens, the subdivided system has fallen apart, insurrection has swept across the land, and the ruthless Erudite overlord (Kate Winslet) blames it all on rebel Divergents.

Peace, we’re told, can only be obtained by opening a rune-covered, boxed-up do-dad containing a secret message “from the founders” of the long-ago, walled-in society that that has ultimately disintegrated into chaos and ruin. And the only person who can open the box—through a series of grueling, simulated tests, or “sims,” that are like wiring into a life-or-death computer game—is a Divergent.

Winslet’s icy CEO/empress orders her minions to round up Divergents until she finds one who can pass—survive—all five sims, each based on one of the factions. What’s in the box, that drives her to coldly sacrifice others to obtain it? The search is futile…until they find Tris, the purest, most “divergent” of all the Divergents.

Some viewers have faulted the Divergent series as being too derivative of The Hunger Games, which—fair enough—also featured great-looking, well-coiffed, repressed young people in a grim future world, fighting each other, held against their will and railing against an unjust, repressive, totalitarian regime. But every franchise of anything has its fans, and Roth’s trio of novels—like The Hunger Games—will also be stretched into four films before it finally wraps up in 2017.

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Octavia Spencer

Insurgent, in addition to Woodley, finds several other young actors returning to their roles, including hunks Theo James, Ansel Elgort and the series’ true secret weapon, Miles Teller, who provides much-needed levity—and what little real surprise there is to be found in the thin storyline. Octavia Spencer and Naomi Watts are newly aboard, and their relatively seasoned maturity frequently gives them the air of grownups navigating a bustling high school hallway.

The plot is convoluted and confusing, moving at a gloopy glacial pace punctuated by spasms and spurts of running, chasing, shooting and scuffling. The special effects, when Tris is hooked up to the sims contraption, are bombastic, jarring blowouts that pummel, rather than dazzle, the senses. Some of the large interior scenes seem designed, propped, costumed and photographed less like pieces of a dystopian drama and more like a Broadway musical—I halfway expected someone to break into a song called “Beyond the Wall” or “United We Diverge.”

What’s in the box? Oh, that: The setup for two more movies!

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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We Are Stardust

The sweet teenage suffering of 11 million fans hits the big screen

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The Fault in Our Stars

Starring Shailene Woodley & Ansel Elgort

Directed by Josh Boone

PG-13, 125 min.

 

“What’s your story?” Augustus “Gus” Waters asks 16-year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster early in this highly anticipated movie adaptation of the wildly popular novel by author John Green that’s sold almost 11 million copies and been on the New York Times bestseller list for almost three years.

In answering the question about “her” story, then dissecting it, Hazel (Shailene Woodley), who’s fought cancer nearly her entire life, and Gus (Ansel Elgort), the 18-year-old fellow cancer survivor who becomes her soul mate, set the stage for a much bigger story—about two young people determined to make their story more than just a “cancer” story, refusing to let their disease rule their lives or their future.

A Fault In Our StarsGreen’s romantic, heart-aching, heartbreaking, poignant melodrama of two kids on a “star-crossed” course with fate has teen-DNA strands stretching all the way back to antiquity, running from Romeo and Juliet through the classic 1970s tear-jerker Love Story. The title, a twist on a quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, refers to the world as a “profoundly unjust place where suffering is unfairly distributed,” according to Green.

As Hazel, Woodley is sensational, especially given that she’s got a breathing tube in her nostrils constantly and she lugs around a canister of oxygen the entire movie, physical limitations that focus us even more on the breadth of emotions she can coax out of even the smallest of facial expressions.

There’s a marvelous scene when Gus tells her that he loves her, and we watch her eyes well with emotion in the soft glow of a restaurant’s hundreds of twinkling (star-like) lights. It’s a moment that taps into all that the movie has been about up until that point, much more complex and nuanced that it might sound, and the camera lingers on Woodley’s radiant face, empowering it to carry the entire weight of everything that goes unsaid.

Her handsome, hunkish co-star, Elgort, who also appeared with her earlier this year in Divergent, is a bit hammy by comparison. But the book’s legions of (mostly) female fans likely won’t be grading his acting chops between sighs and swoons.

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Gus (Ansel Elgort), Issac (Nat Wolff) and Hazel Grace (Shailene Woodley) engage in an egg-throwing prank.

Laura Dern and Sam Trammell play Hazel’s loving, protective parents, and Willem Dafoe is the scotch-swilling author of that book Hazel adores. Nat Wolff portrays Gus’ friend Issac, who’s losing his eyesight, but not his droll wit, to cancer.

Smarter, sharper and deeper than most movies aimed at teens, The Fault in Our Stars doesn’t dumb down its story, its dialogue, or its realities for its target audience, and it blends in some heady existential nuggets—and metaphors—on death, dying, living, suffering, religion, theology, ethics, miracles, time, space, infinity, eternity and oblivion.

For everyone who’s already fallen under the spell of Green’s book, this movie will complete a magnificent arc that began with words on a page, bringing beloved characters, places and conversations vividly, emotionally to life, larger than life, on a giant screen. For everyone else, well, climb on board, better late than never, and get ready to find out what all the fuss has been about—and why, for millions, Hazel’s tale has become so much more than just a cancer story.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Smells Like Teen Spirit

Young audiences can SO relate to the future-shock emotions of ‘Divergent’

 

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Shailene Woodley and Theo James star in the first movie from author Veronica Roth’s futuristic trilogy.

Divergent

Starring Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd & Kate Winslet

Directed by Neal Burger

PG-13, 139 min.

 

This latest vision of a totalitarian, dystopian future comes by way of author Veronica Roth, whose popular young adult novels are now Hollywood’s latest hopes to cash in with the audience—and payday—of The Hunger Games and Twilight franchises.

Divergent, the first in Roth’s trilogy of best-sellers, centers on teenagers who are tested and sorted into one of five groups, or factions, when they turn 16. The classification locks them into irreversible courses to become selfless public servants; brainy scholars and scientists; pacifist farmers; warrior protectors; or truth-seeking lawmakers.

Born into the public-service group, Beatrice (Shailene Woodley) “tests” with evidence of more than one faction: Uh-oh, she’s a “divergent,” and being more than one thing is considered bad—and dangerous. She’s a mutation that threatens the social order.

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Zoe Kravitz (left) and Shailene Woodley portray new initiates to the warrior-like Dauntless “faction” who begin their training with a bold leap from a moving train.

Beatrice bucks her test results, gives a parting glance to her crestfallen mom (Ashley Judd) and runs off (literally) to join the fearless “warrior” group, Dauntless. She shortens her name to Tris and falls for her mentor/instructor, Four (Theo James), who becomes her partner in uncovering a diabolical scheme by the cold, calculating head of the intellectual Erudite group (Kate Winslet) that could spell doom for Tris and her kind.

It’s easy to see how this story has a built-in appeal to young audiences. Teenagers can certainly relate to its young characters leaving home, trying to figure out who they are, facing major decisions about their futures, and rebelling against forces conspiring to steer them places they may not want to go.

The plot is rather dense, often clumsy and clunky, and the whole thing could stand to be about 25 minutes shorter. Director Neal Burger can’t quite seem to get out from under the long shadow of The Hunger Games, which looms large.

DIVERGENTBut Woodley is a delight to watch; her face can convey a spectrum of emotion—delight, bemusement, betrayal, regret—with only the slightest movement, a subtle shift in her eyes or a morph of her lips. She’s also now become a capable action-adventure star. The camera also loves James, and the romantic heat between the two of them will melt away a lot of the shortcomings in Divergent as far as its sizeable target audience is concerned.

“We need to keep moving,” says Four in the final scene, as he and Tris leap onto a speeding train, heading toward the sun and tomorrow. Keep moving, indeed, and all aboard: The Divergent sequel, Insurgent, begins production in May.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Living for ‘Now’

Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley star in coming-of-age charmer

The Spectacular Now

The Spectacular Now

Blu-ray $24.99 / DVD $19.99 (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)

A charming, popular, live-for-the-moment high school senior Sutter (Miles Teller) falls for the shy, studious “girl next door” dreamer Aimee (Shailene Woodley) in this film-festival coming-of-age charmer that broke into the mainstream last summer. Can Sutter see past his “spectacular now” to what might lie ahead, both good and bad? Based on popular young-adult novel by Tim Tharp, it’s a sharp, soulful teen movie that tells it like it is, with a strong supporting cast (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kyle Chandler, Brie Larson, and Bob Odenkirk from TV’s Breaking Bad). Bonus features include a four-part making-of feature, deleted scenes and commentary.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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