Tag Archives: Divergent

What to make of Godard’s New Wave sci-fi classic ‘Alphaville’

Journalist Ivan Johnson aka secret agent Lemmy Caution "hides" and watches a fellow agent make love to a seductress third class.

Journalist Ivan Johnson – aka secret agent Lemmy Caution – “hides” and watches a fellow agent make love to a seductress third class.

Alphaville is a strange flick. On the one hand, writer/director Jean-Luc Godard plumbs the depths of questions about individuality, spirituality, love and the struggle between humanity and technology in a rapidly evolving world. On the other hand, there are times the film is so awkward that it’s almost difficult to watch (although, to be fair, Godard made three movies that year and four the previous year, so time and budget were likely the culprits behind troublesome moments, rather than his ability as a visual storyteller).

That said, the end product is undeniably alluring. Godard’s Alphaville is a place without laughter or love, virtually no music, no passion beyond base sexual needs, a world where constantly redacted dictionaries are bibles and E-mc² is liturgy. In one scene, those who violate the tight, emotional bonds – by laughing, crying, even just caring – are forced to “walk the plank,” up to the edge of diving board, and then shot as they scream their last words in defense of their acts of humanity. As the lifeless bodies hit the water, beautiful young women in matching swimming attire dive in and perform synchronized swimming moves as they retrieve the dead bodies. Crowds watch and cheer as the swimmers perform. It is simultaneously absurd and prescient, a mocking of those who cry out for death and cheer as the blood begins to flow. Humanity is constantly denigrated and tamped down, all for the betterment of the logical society of Alphaville.

What I found most interesting was just how much the science fiction that followed Alphaville mimicked so much of its dystopian future. For example:

* The Matrix – In Alphaville, the supercomputer Alpha 60 controls all. It monitors all communications, calls forth its own “agents” to suppress any who would break out of the rigid system it provides. The world we see is the mask; the real action happens behind the scenes with Alpha 60 and its programmers.

* Blade Runner – Rick Dekard and secret agent Lemmy Caution are cut from the same film noir cloth. Neither understands what they’ve stepped into; both are determined to finish the job.

* Brave New World – Alphaville is a land of sex without love, pills that keep you content. Both Aldous Huxely’s and Godard’s worlds deny any true love or passion, making sex as rote and necessary as having lunch or dropping a deuce.

* 2001: A Space Odyssey – Alpha 60 is HAL. Both understand that the body counts don’t matter, it is the end result, the desired goal, that is most important.

* Divergent – You don’t fit into the pre-determined roles set up by society? In the Divergent series, you are cast out. In Alphaville, you’re lured to a theater and gassed as you enjoy the show.

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‘100’ may be trying to get ‘Lost’

Grounded sky dwellers Clarke and Octavia, either running into trouble or running from it.

Grounded sky dwellers Clarke and Octavia, either running into trouble or running from it.

Spoilers ahead. You were warned.

I’ve been pretty impressed with the CW’s The 100. I started watching it with my (then) tween daughter, who is a big fan of all things Hunger Games, Divergent, etc. And while in its own post-apocalyptic way The 100 is part of that youth genre, the writers and other minds behind the show have done a nice job of establishing unique situations and strong characters. The three-way war between sky folk, grounders and the mountain people was masterful, a situation made more interesting by the personal relationships and political machinations that each side has tried to manipulate in their favor.

Clarke has become the most interesting character. Yes, she’s the lead, the daughter of the only doctor among the sky people, a conscience at times when the youthful, shrinking group of 100 needed her to be, particularly in the first season. But the second season has seen a dramatic change in her role. As she has ascended to leadership, she is the one who now must make the tough decisions. She can’t just stand on the sidelines and critique. Now, the blood is on her hands when things go wrong, when battles must be fought, when conflicts must be settled. The change becomes apparent at mid-season when her love interest, Finn, is surrendered for the mass murder of unarmed grounders. It is a political decision to hand him over. It smooths the path for unity between grounders and sky people, as well as their military alliance against the mountain folk. Finn will be tortured, slowly, in gruesome manners for his crime. Clarke approaches him, hugs him to say goodbye, then stabs him in the gut, sealing her bargain with the grounders with blood without allowing Finn’s death to be dragged out over days. It’s a hard call, but the mark of leadership.

I could go on and on about the positives regarding character development, factions and more. It’s all praise that is deserving. But I’m worried that the good times may be over, and that has paused my adoration.

At the end of season two, Jaha – who was the leader among the sky people while in space, but has become a Quixotic character in his search for civilization – has found what he believes to be is the fabled City of Light, of which we have heard a lot about, but not much of substance. Things are clean, solar-powered, food and drink are around. But Jaha finds a settler, a digital image of a human who we were warned might be the person who started the nukes flying that sent our plucky heroes’ ancestors to space in the first place. This digital being seems determined to start the radiation parade all over again. ostensibly with the help of Jaha.

There was something about it that just screamed … Lost. To this point, there’s been no mystical element to the proceedings. To be sure, there’s been plenty of weird to go around, but all explainable. But this moment that closed Season Two felt like the smoke monsters, talking to dead people, ancient temples, a plane full of carcasses on the bottom of the ocean. I sincerely hope that this will lead somewhere rewarding, don’t get me wrong.

But my Spidey Sense is tingling. And as we all know, that never ended well for Peter Parker.

To be continued …

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‘Maze Runner’ succeeds where ‘Divergent’ failed

That "runner" in the title was in no way misleading.

That “runner” in the title was in no way misleading.

I shouldn’t have to say spoilers ahead, but I am, so heed my warning.

Remember how dull Divergent was? A slow, overstuffed, slog of a movie that wasted the talent of far too many quality actors, ranged all over the place without committing to much of anything until crunch time and not once made any attempt to explain what the deal was with the big wall around the city? Yeah, that’s not Maze Runner at all.

Maze Runner gives a quick set up, explaining that once a month a service elevator rises from underground into a meadow in the middle of an enormous maze. The elevator carries supplies for the boys and young men living in “The Glade,” as well as one new occupant, who – like all of the other boys – remembers nothing about anything that happened before his arrival in this new, odd and terrifying place. All of the boys operate under a simple code of conduct, each contributing to the collective as they are assigned. Our newbie Thomas (played ably by Dylan O’Brien) wants in on action with the maze runners, a group of guys who leave each morning to run The Maze, mapping as they go, trying to beat it back to The Glade before the doors to The Maze close each evening. Because nobody survives night in The Maze. Nobody.

Once that set-up is established, all hell breaks loose. Kids that get stung by occupants of the maze – mechanical/biological hybrids known as Grievers – turn psychotic and slowly die. The schedule of The Maze changes. Grievers attack the glade. And so on. After the initial moments of the movie, there isn’t much time to catch your breath. The pacing is fantastic, the young cast likable and believable, the effects solid.

My only real problem with Maze Runner is the explanation the Gladers get about their lives and the world they live in when they finally find their way through The Maze. It seems pretty ridiculous. But (and that’s a big old but), there’s a chance what they’ve been told is a lie. If that’s the case, the ensuing Maze flicks should be interesting.

Unlike Divergent. The Maze Runner earns the YA sci-fi screen adaption crown of 2014 … at least until Katniss blows it all up in November.

 

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What was the big deal about ‘Divergent’?

Kate Winslet does more acting to get out of a speeding ticket than she does in all of "Divergent."

Kate Winslet does more acting to get out of a speeding ticket than she does in all of “Divergent.”

Rushed.

That was the word that kept floating through my head as I watched Divergent. I felt like everything happened too quickly in an effort to get a lot in, and it still seemed like there was something lacking. It wasn’t just that. I still am not sure what the deal is with Maggie Q’s character. It’s the first time I’ve ever walked away from a Kate Winslet performance unimpressed. I’m not sure why the minds behind the movie chose to give Miles Teller a paycheck and then asked him to do nothing to earn it. And so on.

It wasn’t that Divergent was a horrible movie. It’s no Bangkok Dangerous, Ghost Rider or any host of awful movies that don’t star Nicholas Cage. What it feels like is a missed opportunity. The set-up is good, the idea that this future city faces the dangerous wildness around it by strict adherence to a caste system that runs and protects the city. However, the intellectual caste wants to be in charge, doing its best to sling mud at the self-sacrificing caste that provides the politicians and public servants while simultaneously preparing an army of mindless soldiers that will do their will. The needs of the many cast aside by the greed of the few, a timely theme. Besides the premise, Jai Courtney is a helluva lot of fun as the uber-willing fascist jackhole Eric. And all credit to Shailene Woodley, who did a lot with a little. The resulting movie was both not worthy of her performance and only worth watching because of said performance.

Divergent is the set up for a trilogy, so it’s weaknesses could eventually be overlooked if movies II and III can build upon it.

But as a stand-alone, it doesn’t hack it. Unfortunate.

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