I was duped. The culprit? The Mountain Between Us. What appeared to be a two-hander survival drama between thespian heavies Kate Winslet and Idris Elba slowly melted into a Nick Sparksian romance meets 90’s Eagles ballad. “Love Will Keep Us Alive” may not play over the credits but it’s the essential thrust of this otherwise admittedly well-performed, handsomely shot feature film and as the material pivots into saccharine territory, it loses both steam and credibility, resulting in a final slog that’ll shatter more suspension of disbelief than bones in Winslet’s ankle.  Read More


Out in Theaters: ‘TRIPLE 9’

There’s so many tattered sleeves of other (greater) crime films sifting in and out of John Hillcoat’s Triple 9 that the final product plays a bit like a voodoo pincushion of greatest hits moments. There’s buttons of Heat, The Departed, American Gangster and many other crime classics, with characters seemingly beamed in from Bad Lieutenant, Sicario and End of Watch, all come to rumble in Hillcoat’s dirty little Atlanta playground. That this stable of influences is mostly able to coalesce into a largely exciting, ceaselessly dark and somewhat intelligible thriller is admirable, even if it sometimes finds itself a touch off the rails. Read More


Out in Theaters: ‘STEVE JOBS’

A sweetly sour punch of cinematic vitality, Steve Jobs is alive, it’s kinetic and it’s an intellectual kick to the shins. With a soaring foundation in Aaron Sorkin’s lively script, the dramatic biography hums along in real time, deconstructing the mythology of a recently controversial figure, the eponymous Steve Jobs, as he navigates his way to the top of the personal computer heap. From top to bottom, no detail has been spared as Danny Boyle’s signature aesthetic doddlings add a certain touch of magical realism to the affair while Michael Fassbender’s award-worthy central performance grounds the film in a degree of stone-washed, near-robotic cynicism. It’s an odd marriage of misanthropic megalomania and surprisingly salty sentiment that works for almost every minute of its run time. Read More


Out in Theaters: A LITTLE CHAOS

True to its title, not much in the way of chaos occurs in Alan Rickman’s sophomore directorial effort. In fact, most of the time affairs are the exact opposite of chaotic. Instead it’s a modest well-mannered period piece, taking part in the action of Versailles, France, 1628. It’s technically proficient – as most period pieces are – and the performances are solid across the board, though nothing outstanding. Rickman directs with competence but on the whole A Little Chaos is instantly forgettable—marked by a feeling of slightness and opting to pursue the safest routes for predictable romantic dramas. Read More


Out in Theaters: DIVERGENT

Directed Neil Burger 
Starring Shailene Woodley, Miles Teller, Kate Winslet, Jai Courtney, Theo James
Science-Fiction, Action
139 Mins


Watching Divergent is like trying to figure out what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. You’re thrust a grab-bag of emotions ranging from awe to complete disbelief. Who made this thing? What terrible atrocity happened to these people? Why didn’t the technology work? Where the hell did everything go wrong? Did this really happen?

Divergent is the rare oddity where the trailer is more exciting than the movie ever gets. Director Neil Burger’s (Limitless) latest big-screen project is trapped in Act One purgatory. Somehow he never manages to make it to Act Two (forget about Act Three), while only fitting ten minutes of action into a nearly three-hour movie. Simultaneously the slowest and most pointless flick this year, it never seems to start or end.  At 139 minutes in run-time, it’s about 130 minutes too long. Divergent takes longer to reach a climax than… well, you get it.

The film, based on Veronica Roth’s novel of the same, stars Shailene Woodley in her first foray into high-budget Hollywood film. Miles Teller, Jai Courtney, Theo James and Kate Winslet (!?) join her. Stealing elements from Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games and similar teen-fiction titles, Divergent gets old fast.

Based in a worn-down Chicago (somehow the last place on Earth), a “utopian” society is divided into five separate factions: Abnegation, for the selfless; Amity, for the peaceful; Candor, for the honest; Dauntless, for the brave; and Erudite, for the knowledgeable. Every year, 16-year olds must go through testing to determine which faction they should join. Of course, there’s a problem with this: sometimes kids can show competency in the characteristics of several factions, hence the eponymous “Divergent.”

 “Abnegation” dresses like they’re in a prison camp, while their social responsibility is to feed the homeless—dubbed “Factionless”—and avoid all forms of comfort, including looking in the mirror—oh, how selfless! Since they’re considered the most altruistic, they also run the government… I won’t venture a joke at that one, it’s not even worth it.

“Dauntless” are gymnasts who spend their days sprinting everywhere, jumping on rooftops and giggling their asses off. They’re Chicago’s “police,” charged with defending the citizens and keeping order. Of course, they’re also the most diverse group. Let’s put it this way: you won’t see a black kid in Erudite. They look like the United Colors of Benetton teamed up with Nike to help the under-privileged. Supposedly, their fitness makes them fearless. Instead, they just look delirious.

Woodley, a Divergent, decides to join Dauntless, which is right about when this film loses all impetus. Similar to the Hunger Games, in order to join the faction, she has to beat out her competition by proving herself in various activities.This quickly turns Divergent into a futuristic Summer Camp for the fit and beautiful, complete with a ropes course; Capture the LED-Flag; team-building exercises; zip-lines through Chicago; and, you guessed it, Tag. I’m surprised they chose not to fit in a friendship bracelet workshop or a round of Duck Duck Grey Duck. Burger spends two full hours trying to entertain you by showing teens doing things you barely enjoyed doing yourself when you were younger. “Look how much fun they’re all having!”

To prove their mettle and fearlessness, Woodley and her pledge class of giddy recruits have to jump onto a train, then subsequently jump off. At one point, they compete in a five-minute paintball fight. They’re told to get tattoos to show their badassery. These feats of strength continue for about an hour and forty-five minutes. A love-story is also interspersed throughout, as camp-instructor Theo James and Woodley must overcome various obstacles in order to finally make out.

The only real conflict in this film involves whether Woodley will get kicked out of camp. We’re constantly submitted to idiotic recitations of the same bullshit, over and over. Again and again, she’s told: “You’re dauntless, so act dauntless or get kicked out.” My question: why would anyone choose to be part of this group of tattooed douchebags? I’d much rather live on the street, being fed by horribly clothed government workers than spend my days getting harassed by tatted-up jocks in leather windbreakers.


Her final initiation ritual before ultimately becoming one of these idiots involves submitting herself to some sort of virtual reality fear-machine where her fearlessness is tested. Phobias that she must overcome include sexual assault by James, death by killer crow, murdering her family, and drowning in a sealed glass case. She’s able to conquer these fears by telling herself “This isn’t real.” I wish.

Around two hours in, things finally ramp up. The last fifteen minutes are actually decent, dragged along by great acting from Woodley and the ever-spectacular Miles Teller. Everyone else slows them down, notably James, Jai Courtney, and Kate Winslet, who is in this movie for no apparent reason. She’s terrible.

Ultimately, Divergent is Hunger Games without the stakes, Twilight without the romance, Harry Potter without the magic. The Disney Channel-level acting and plot cramps you up like Hunger Pangs; this isn’t Katniss, it’s cat piss.

In the end, you leave Divergent telling yourself that this was just a dream; maybe you ate some bad shellfish and hallucinated the whole thing. You tell yourself, “this isn’t real,” hoping against all hope that it isn’t. Maybe Flight 370 never even existed. This is all a figment of your imagination, a cruel joke. Yeah, this week was just a wild nightmare. You click your heels together three times. This isn’t real… This isn’t real… This isn’t real…

Screams snap you out of it. You’re sitting next to a pre-pubescent girl’s volleyball team from the local middle school—they shriek every time Miles Teller is on-screen. Now it’s clear who this movie was made for, except this film calls for a different brand of ‘spike.’ You’ll have to down a few drinks to make it through this one.


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Out in Theaters: LABOR DAY

“Labor Day”
Directed by Jason Reitman
Starring Josh Brolin, Kate Winslet, Gattlin Griffith, Tobey Macquire, Tom Lipinksi, Clark Gregg, JK Simmons
111 Mins


Jason Reitman‘s Labor Day is a hokey, sentimental, botched abortion of a film, asking “Would you like some cheese with that ham?” Dreadfully sappy and spilling over with predictable narrative turns that’ll have you groaning in your seat, this gushing melodrama employs the trifecta of director Jason Reitman, Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin with all the elegance of buckshot into a watermelon.

Both accomplished performers do give it their all and commit to the dungy script with full hearts but they’re given such softcover romance novel material to work with that even their most devout earnestness can’t cover the gaping hole. Even the most talented of artists could turn this thin-skinned story that screams bubble bath bathos into a respectable and engaging tale.

Almost at points weaker than a Nicholas Sparks’ doomed romance, Labor Day sees an escaped convict (Brolin) hole up with a single mom (Winslet) and her son, played by a steady-handed Gattlin Griffith. Quicker than this beast can say Belle, Winslet’s Adele is fawning over this goatee-rocking con with none other than a gaping wound in his side. We’re led to believe that her illogical swooning comes from some form of “love at first sight” nonsense but the shoddy sham that’s truly going on is far more evident to the audience. She falls for him because he’s a man, willing to employ years of manliness to fix up the house and put her, near crumbling, affairs in order. Most importantly though, Frank’s the first dude to look her way in what seems like years and he’s apparently really digging her shaky, damaged goods routine.

As for Frank’s broken brand of bittersweet, he’s a man deeply distressed by certain events in his past, that oh so conspicuously percolate up over the course of the film, but he’s got an encyclopedic knowledge of just about everything and is as soft-skinned as the peaches that he makes into pies. From making irresistible pie crust to replacing furnace filters, he’s got more tricks up his sleeve than Mary Poppins. “How could this guy possibly be in jail for murder?” we’re meant to wonder, “He’s just so great!” Even though Brolin tries to sand down the edges of this over-the-top character with his rough and gruff persona, nothing he does is able to override the neon heartstring-yanking intent seeping from the page.

Strangely enough, in the throes of this hackneyed love drama Reitman tries to ratchet up some invisible tension with a syncopated score reminiscent of a 90’s spy thriller complete with edgy camera casts into the foreboding wooden atmosphere. Truly, there is never a moment of suspense, never a second where we don’t know exactly what is going to happen next so it rarely makes sense why he’s trying to weave tension from thin air. Worse yet, as he moves into the home stretch, the narrative makes drastic turns towards egregiously cornball resolutions we’d expect from a mega bargain paperback fiction. When Tobey Macguire‘s career turns to pie making, the writing has covered the wall.
An embarrassing stain on the respected filmography of all involved, Labor Day is really just not the kind of film one would expect Reitman to make. From Juno to Up in the Air, Thank You For Smoking to Young Adult, this is a man intent on exploring themes of loss and personal exploration, growing pains and manipulation. This sees none of the above and has the grace of a drunken tabby cat. A misfire in all senses of the word, let’s just write Labor Day one off as the dud that it is and hope it’s no more than a fluke in an otherwise commendable career.


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DIVERGENT Trailer Is More Of The Same


Dystopian satire is a difficult thing to pull off without seeming heavy handed. Neil Burger’s Divergent looks to follow the path of films like Equilibrium, in taking bits and pieces from George Orwell, Phillip K. Dick, and Aldous Huxley and mashing them together into some brainless dystopia that has the subtlety of a sledgehammer. The episode of Star Trek with the half-black, half-white, people had a more even-handed approach to current political issues than the trailer for Divergent looks to have (and that is a bold statement).

In this half-baked premise, everyone is categorized into a few different groups based on personality. Shailene Woodley’s character doesn’t fit any of those criteria. Queue Inception soundtrack, shots of brutalist architecture, and blatantly obvious commentary on individuality in modern society and you’ve got yourself another Hunger Games.

Woodley will surely be chased down by an evil military because they are threatened by her free thought (probably the only thing that can bring them down). Don’t think about the fact that nothing would have happened if they had left her alone. Ten bucks says she joins an underground resistance of some sort and falls in love with a hunky male.  

If you are a fan of “smart” movies for dumb people, check this out when it hits theaters on March 21, 2014.

Divergent is directed by Neil Burger and stars Shailene Woodley, Kate Winslet, Miles Teller, and Theo James. It hits theaters March 21, 2014.

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Watch the First Trailer for Jason Reitman's LABOR DAY

Once thought to be a serious Oscar contender, Labor Day opened to lukewarm reviews out of the Toronto International Film Festival and has largely fallen off the radar as one to be strongly anticipated. Nonetheless anything from Jason Reitman, director of Juno, Up in the Air, Thank You For Smoking and Young Adult, is worth a watch, even if this will be one of his lesser efforts. Starring Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet as a pair of strangers forced together by chance, Labor Day is currently rocking a 65% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Depressed single mom Adele (Winslet) and her son Henry offer a wounded, fearsome man (Brolin), who turns out to be a con on the run, a ride home and a place to lie low. As the police turn over the town in search of the escaped convict, Adele and her son gradually learn his true story as their options become increasingly limited. As the Labor Day weekend runs to a close,  Tobey Maguire, Clark Gregg, JK Simmons, Brooke Smith and James Van Der Beek co-star.

Labor Day is directed by Jason Reitman and stars Josh Brolin, Kate Winslet, Tobey Maguire, Clark Gregg, JK Simmons, Brooke Smith and James Van Der Beek. It will not open on Labor Day as it comes to theaters on Christmas Day.