Divergent: Being Different Can be Murder (Review)

Divergent: Being Different Can be Murder (Review)

In the 2014 science fiction film Divergent, being different can be murder…literally. Adapted from the novel by Veronica Roth and the beginning of a trilogy, this film is yet another look at a post apocalyptic world where control and conformity are the key to survival.

Jackpot (2011): Brilliant Black Comedy

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Written and directed by Magnus Martens and based on a story by Jo Nesbø, Jackpot is a hysterically funny film about the lack of honour among criminals and how one innocent man gets caught up in almost more than he can handle.

The film opens with two men in a police interviewing room in the Ostfold Police Station. One is covered in blood and bruises while the other man, who is in a suit, questions him. The first man is Oscar Svendson who one hour previously crawled out from under the body of a huge woman while clutching a shotgun, the only survivor of a massive shoot-out in the club.

As Oscar struggles to tell the police detective what happened we are treated to a flash-back. A car with three young men is going down the road.We see it drive into the car park of a strip-club/video store called Pink Heaven. The three young men jump out and trot through the door eagerly calling out, “Any pussy in here?” As the doors close on them, gunfire erupts and all three men are shot.

As the opening credits roll, we see the carnage left in the club and we meet the detective who will question Oscar later in the film.

The Cast:

Kyrre Hellum
Oscar Svendson
Mads Ousdal
Thor Eggen
Henrik Mestad
Solør
Arthur Berning
Billy Utomjordet

The Plot:

Oscar is a sort kind of Parole Officer/Supervisor in a “Halfway House” factory that employs ex-convicts when they are released from prison. The factory makes small plastic Christmas trees. Oscar enters a football pool with three of the ex-cons who work there. Thor, Dan, and Billy all fill in tickets and Oscar drops them off paying for all the men to play. Oscar’s girlfriend tells him to change the first team that they’ve chosen to win to a draw.

When the match is televised the teams do indeed play to a draw, Billy, Thor and Dan are furious until they find that Oscar had changed the first match bet. They win over 1.7 million on the pool. Unfortunately for Oscar, despite his good fortune, his troubles are just beginning.

Waiting for the results...
Waiting for the results… Oscar, Billy, Dan, and Thor.

The Device:

The film switches from interview room to flashback and certain “scenes of the crime” where the flashbacks must “marry up” with the story that Oscar relates to Police Detective Solor (Mestad). Each flashback features more hysterically funny bad luck on the part of Oscar.

The Twist:

By the end of the film you’re left asking; did it really happen that way?

The Verdict:

Rib-tickling fun. Despite the fact that the amount of gore and blood-letting in the film could equal a Takeshi Miike movie, the film is almost hysterically funny. The action, which could be described as overly violent slapstick is blackly funny and is helped by the dialogue which can range from dry dead-pan delivery to over-the-top hilarity.

At one point Oscar is relating something and he states that when Plan A failed they had to resort to Plan B. The detective asks, “What was Plan b?” Oscar responds, “Not very good.” Very, very funny.

Due to the amount of violence and death; blood and gore; and some pretty gruesomely funny means of body disposal the film can only be classified as a black comedy. Jackpot has to be the funniest crime film I’ve seen in ages and I am amazed that Hollywood has not already snapped this film up for a remake.

A real gut-busting 5 stars out of 5 for a brilliant mix of hilarity and death. Proving once again that the Scandinavian countries don’t just write good crime fiction, but, they make great films as well.

Don’t miss it.

Going over the crime scene.
Going over the crime scene…Oscar and Detective Solor.

End Call (2008):One Hell of a Phone Bill

Kiyoshi Yamamoto (who is perhaps better known as the cinematics director for the video game Dragon’s Dogma) directs this low budget horror film as a languid and lackadaisical urban myth in treacle.

The film starts with a group of four friends talking about a “special” phone number. If you call the number on your mobile phone the devil will grant you a wish. The only price you pay is that the amount of time that the phone call takes is deducted from your life. It sounds too good to be true.

And it isn’t.

The real price comes before the end of your life. Each girl gets a mobile phone bill that runs around 15 thousand pounds. None of them can pay this exorbitant fee and one of them (Mako) starts working in the sex industry to earn the money.

Mako’s boyfriend Sakamoto has found out that she is working in the industry and asks best friend Dijimo and Mako’s friend Mai to find out why. Mako is at work when she is told that she needs to see one more client before her shift ends. She goes down to the room and finds it is her lecherous teacher Jojima (who likes to fondle his female students and give them his website details) and she is horrified.

Jojima attempts to blackmail her into servicing him and she kicks him in the crotch and runs out. Later Mai meets her in a public toilet to give her a jacket. Mai asks about the huge phone bill and Mako says that Mai can’t understand; her family is well-off and Mako has to degrade herself to pay the bill.

Teacher Jojimo drooling over Ryoko.

Tragically, the reason for the phone call was that Mako wanted Sakamoto as a boyfriend, now that he has found out what is going on, he leaves. Mai never hears from Mako again and she is terrified that Dojimo will find out  she used the number to get him as her boyfriend.

Out of the group of five friends, one (Mako) disappears and another (Ryoko) kills herself after her boyfriend leaves her to date Mai. Mai has also got a huge phone bill and Ryoko’s boyfriend as a result of her phone call. Mai tell Dojimo about the phone number and the resulting big bill, but not about her phone call or wish.

Urukawa is the first of the group to use the number and she asks for freedom, which she gets, but not how she wants it. After an argument with Mai, she goes to the library to research this number. She bumps into Dojimo and they look together. He finds an old newspaper article saying that this same thing happened ten years ago.

All the girls who called this number died; either by suicide or illness and accidents. He says it sounds like an urban legend. He also finds out that the same thing happened again ten years later; each time 10 people die after ringing the number.

The movie ends with a twist, but by the time you get there, you might get confused.

The film is patchy and despite the promise of the story; the low-budget, poor acting and spotty continuity detracts from the impact of the film. The sound, especially the ADR, is very poorly done; as though the dialogue has been dubbed.

I’ve watched the film twice now (both times on Netflix) and I understood better the second time around what was really going on. It is an interesting film and worth a look, but it is nothing to write home about. It obviously did not make a big splash when it was released in 2008 as IMDb has only the absolute minimum of information about it on the site.

Not surprising considering the amount of things that are wrong with the film. If your attention wanders for even a minute, you will lose track of what is going on. There is not enough action to keep you glued to the events on-screen and the pay-off is minimal at the end. It would have been interesting to see what a difference a bigger budget would have made to the film.

End Call is not the best example of J-horror out there but, nonetheless, it is hard to stop watching it. More of a curiosity than a truly scary film the basic plot is more interesting than the overall presentation.

I will say this though, if there was such a number to call? You’d wind up paying one hell of a phone bill.

Urukawa daydreaming of how much better the film would be with a bigger budget.

Looper (2012): Time After Time?

Written and directed by Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom), Looper stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Noah Segan, Jeff Daniels, and Pierce Gagnon as Cid the future Rainman. It is a science fiction/thriller/action film that takes place in the year 2044 and its main plot device is time travel.

Joe (Gordon-Levitt) is a looper. Loopers, it appears, came into being right after time travel is invented in 2074. Immediately banned and made illegal by the government; the new time travel is used by huge criminal organizations as a sort of “Murder’s Inc” where “hits” are sanctioned and sent back to the past to be carried out by a looper.

So in the future hitmen become loopers and in the sense that some things never change, time travel is a criminal’s wet dream; presumably allowing more than just murder to fly the “airways.” When the target arrives in the past, he lands on a tarpaulin; hands tied behind his back and his head covered in a cloth bag.

The second he appears, the looper shoots him and rolls the body over to collect his “Judas” fee of silver bars. In an ironic twist, the loopers work for criminals from the future in the past. If you try to figure it out, you’ll just give yourself a headache. So don’t try, even Old Joe (Willis) says it’s beyond explanation (unless you use straws and salt).

In this world of murderous loopers one way to retire is when your future bosses send your future self back to be “whacked” this constitutes “closing the loop.” You get a literal golden handshake and you retire. Joe systematically does his job, learns French and relies on drugs to relieve the monotony of his existence.

When one of Joe’s fellow loopers, Seth (Dano) meets his future self, he is so shaken that he lets him escape. Seth comes to Joe for help and begs for a place to hide. Their boss Abe (Daniels) has already sent Kid Blue (Segan) to Joe’s apartment and they take Joe to see Abe. Joe then gives Seth up to Abe and gets to spend an hour with his favourite prostitute to ease his conscience.

Life goes back to “normal” which means Joe continues to kill his target at 11:30 in the morning and then go for coffee later. One day, the target is late. When it does arrive, he has no bag over his head and his hands are free. Joe is stunned and in the split second it takes him to fire his blunderbuss, his target (his future self) turns and the shot goes into the gold bars on his back.

As Joe pumps another round into the gun, Old Joe hits him with a gold bar; knocks him out and escapes. Joe awakens a bit later with a note telling him to run and catch a train out of town.

Well, it’s 11:30! Time to shoot another target.

Now here is the only spot in the film that confused me. Joe (Gordon-Levitt) returns to his apartment and in the ensuing scuffle, he falls off a fire escape and knocks himself out. We are then treated to a longish montage of Joe actually shooting “Old Joe” and then “living” his life until he marries a Chinese woman and, as Old Joe, gets taken from his house and put into the time machine for his younger self to shoot him.

I was a little confused to say the least. But it did not matter. Any film that deals with time travel is going to be confusing. There are going to be plot holes and mistakes and bits in the film where you can hear the audible sound of everyone’s chin thudding on the ground. But as Bruce Willis’s character says, “It’s doesn’t matter.”

Purists are now pulling their hair and screaming, “Yes, it does matter damn it. What about the space time continuum, blah, blah, blah…”

I say again it does not matter; especially in the verse of this film.

I’ll explain.

Years ago the late Ray Bradbury wrote some excellent science fiction novels. The Martian Chronicles was just one example of his work; immensely popular it was made into a film (once or twice) and a television mini-series. The point about Bradbury’s work is this: when Ray told you that some astronauts took a rocket ship to Mars, that is all he told you. There was no song and dance about what powered the rocket or its payload or its dimensions. It was not pertinent to the story.

Now if you wanted science fiction that was all about the “science” you read Issac Asimov or one of his peers who would gladly give you all the science you might require from your Sy Fy story. The books by either author were equally entertaining but, both were written from a different point of view.

I always leaned more toward Bradbury’s stuff, because I like a good story and I don’t need to know how many booster rockets are needed to get out of the earth’s atmosphere. I feel the same way here about Looper. It’s story about time travel, I don’t need a lot of dithering about with someone trying to explain every little nut and bolt about it. It just is; and I’m fine with that.

The film was vastly entertaining. Even though I did have some problem with Emily Blunt being in yet another movie (I mean, come on guys, is she the only actress available at the moment or what) and as much as I adore Bruce Willis, he also seems to be in a lot this year.

It would probably be easier to list films that Emily Blunt has not been in this year.

Of course this is the third time that the team of Johnson and Gordon-Levitt have worked together. They are starting to look a bit like the Burton/Depp combination; let’s hope that they don’t wind up as stale.

But I have got to say that although I was a bit “freaked out” by the prosthetics used on Gordon-Levitt’s face to make him resemble a young Willis, I was impressed by the fact that Joseph has Bruce’s speech pattern and phrasing down perfectly. I really believed that he could be a younger version of Willis. Very, very impressive to say the least.

The film moves at break neck speed and shows a future that is bleak and violent and (like The Divide’s setting) dirty and hopeless. Joe’s existence before he meets Old Joe is a series of events that all run together fuelled by drugs and emptiness. Despite this depressing background, the movie manages to look like what we imagine the world to look like in 21 years.

I do have to say that I’m impressed that Rian managed to get a “hover cycle” into the film.

My final verdict is that this was a cracking film and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ll say it’s definitely a 5 star film worth watching and that I’m sorry I missed this at the cinema.

Bruce looks as upset as I am about the hoverbike not working.

The Divide (2011): Claustrophobic Chaos

Directed by Xavier Gens (Hitman) and written by Karl Mueller and  Eron Sheean, The Divide stars Michael Biehn, Milo Ventimiglia, Rosanna Arquette, Lauren German, Courtney B. Vance, Michael Eklund, Ashton Holmes, Iván González and Abbey Thickson as Wendi.

The film opens with German looking out a tall rise building’s stairwell window watching things that are flying through the air and landing on the ground, exploding. A crowd of people are on the stairwell and they are all rushing to get out of the building.

Seven of this “crowd” make it to the basement door which is being closed by Mickey (Biehn). He yells that there is no more room, but the seven survivors push their way in. Mickey then locks the door.

Mickey explains that he is in charge and they need to follow his orders if they want to survive. When the group first arrive they are distracted by noises outside the door. Soon after a group of men in bio-hazard suits force their way into the basement.

They are armed and they focus on Wendi (Thickson) and take her forcibly from her mother Marilyn (Arquette). After two of the men leave with the now inoculated girl in a bag the remaining men go through the basement to kill the rest of the group. Devlin (Vance) beats one to death with a steel pipe and Mickey stabs the other to death. Collecting their guns, Mickey again asserts his leadership role.

Josh (Ventimilgia), aided by Bobby (Eklund) and Adrien (Holmes) puts on one of the bio-hazard suits and goes out the door to see what is going on. When he gets outside he finds that their building is attached to a sealed tunnel which leads to a lab. There he finds Wendi stored behind a closed-door with a glass window on it and an air tube taped to her mouth.

The world is burning.

Josh is spotted as an outsider and has to flee; he shoots two of the other men in the bio-suits, drops his gun and runs back to the basement. Once he gets inside, the people outside the basement weld the door shut. Now that the group are sealed in, the already strained relationship in this disparate group of survivors falls apart.

Mistrust, paranoia, and psychosis are the rule of the day and there is a race to see who will die from radiation poisoning and who will die of violence instigated by each other.

Xavier Gens has started the film in a hurry. The bombs dropping, the mass panic, the people desperate to save themselves and their loved ones all happen quickly. So fast, in fact, that when the few people make it into the basement we are not sure who they are.

A nuclear holocaust, The Divide tells us, makes for strange bedfellows (or basement buddies) and just as in real life, we don’t know who we’ll be sharing that “last” shelter with or if we’ll even get along with them or like them. In keeping with the theme of strangers “helping” strangers, we know very little about any of the survivors.

In this little scenario, the apocalypse has put everyone under the care of the building superintendent, Mickey. He is not pleased to see these folks encroach on his safe haven. Obviously a bit of a “survivalist” Mickey, it seems, has been preparing for this kind of thing since at least 9-11.

Throughout the course of this film we are privy to murder, rape, attempted rape, torture and a lot of tension and violence. Watching this film may make you want to make sure you are armed when you find that little hidey-hole to hunker down in; especially if you have to share it with a group like this one.

This is a thought-provoking film. It asks the viewer to think about how far they would go to save themselves or a loved one. It touches lightly on taboo subjects and just how much we don’t trust strangers.

Gens tells us that not getting turned into an instant crispy critter might actually be worse than dying in the initial conflagration. Like rats that become too crowded in lab experiments, the occupants of the basement turn on each other. It doesn’t help that one (Marilyn) lost the plot when she lost her daughter and that Bobby and Josh are two giant ass-holes on legs.

The two men are as full of attitude as you can possibly be and not be in prison. You get the feeling that these two had probably been in the middle of knocking over the local 7-11 when the bombs began dropping.

Milo Ventimilgia seems to be making a “new” career of playing downright nasty characters. His Josh is the polar opposite of his nurse-turned-super-hero, Peter Patrelli in TV’s Heroes. He was a pretty unpleasant chap in the 2008 film Pathology and he is even more despicable in The Divide.

There’s no saving the cheerleader here.

Michael Biehn does his usual good job and it was especially nice to see Rosanne Arquette again. The last thing I’d seen her in was Pulp Fiction and while I’m sure she has been busy, I just haven’t seen her on-screen for ages. I’ve always had a bit of a crush on Ms Arquette; ever since I saw her in Desperately Seeking Susan.

Everyone does a great job in the film and the whole thing looks like it should. In case you were wondering the apocalypse will be dark, dank, and dirty. Food will be in short supply and you probably will not like the folks you wind up with. The movie is grim and utterly devoid of humour; which, if you think about, probably would not exist in great abundance.

Checking on IMDb, they gave it a 5.8%. I’m not arguing that this figure is wrong, but despite its dirty message, I found that it was a difficult film to watch. The only character I actually felt sorry for was Arquette’s, but that did not last long; once she ventured off into the darker reaches of her mind, I could not maintain my sympathy.

Lauren German  as Eva was the only other female in the group and she seemed too wishy-washy and  self-centred for me to really connect with and while I did not “like” Biehn’s character I could at least understand where he was coming from.

I watched this on Netflix and that is just what I’d recommend anyone else do. A more depressing and disturbing take on surviving a nuclear holocaust might be out there, but if so, I haven’t seen it. Watching the film’s descent into claustrophobic chaos is like watching a slow filthy trolley on its way to hell.

My one big tip about watching this movie is if you aren’t in a good mood don’t watch it. I think if you were depressed before the film started you might just need therapy after watching this downbeat film.

Survivalist Mickey…