FlixChatter Review: West Side Story (2021)


Musicals seem to be back in fashion again in Hollywood. Just this year alone we’ve got In The Heights, Annette, Dear Evan Hansen, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie… not to mention the Netflix release of Tick, Tick, Boom recently. I have to admit I wasn’t exactly clamoring to see a remake of West Side Story (I’m actually one of the last few people on earth who still haven’t seen the original), but I was curious because it’s directed by Steven Spielberg, a renowned director who has not done a musical before.

I wonder why he decided to do THIS particular one as opposed to a whole bunch of other musicals out there. Well, I read on IMDb that he had been a fan of the music since he was 10 years old and he had always wanted to direct an adaptation for it, so in many ways it’s kind of a personal dream the way Denis Villeneuve had always wanted to make DUNE since he was a teenager.


Even without seeing the original, I knew that the story is inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, that famous forbidden romance between two young people from opposing families. Instead of Italy, this one is set in New York’s Upper West Side in the 1950s and instead of warring families, we’ve got two warring teenage gangs – the Jets and the Sharks. The best part about this film is definitely the glorious visuals. Right from the opening scene where we’re introduced to the Jets, the white gangs made up of teenage boys, are bold and stylish. The actors are such amazing dancers who move fluidly and confidently through the streets, and the set design does a great job depicting the urban life of 50s New York. The Jets is led by Riff (Mike Faist), a willowy punk with a huge chip on his shoulder. 


The prime ingredients for a great musicals are definitely the choreography, music and cinematography… and West Side Story has all three. Justin Peck, who started out as a dancer with New York City Ballet, is Tony-award winning choreographer and he does an astounding job here. The dance moves are so fun to watch and had me transfixed the entire time. Another Spielberg longtime collaborator, DP Janusz Kaminski is no stranger to creating beautiful visuals for various genres and he does it again here. I love the way he lights everything and his use of shadows is just awe-inspiring, there are countless ‘one-perfect-shot’ imagery here, but especially THIS one when the Sharks and Jets are meeting to fight in the middle of the night.


Then there’s the absolutely amazing music! The classic songs are definitely the highlight for me… it’s astounding how SO many songs are familiar to me… (I just made a list of top 5 favorites here). Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim are music legends and their music truly stand the test of time.

The performances are generally pretty good. The star-crossed lovers are made up of Maria (Rachel Zegler) and Tony (Ansel Elgort) and I appreciate that the two look young enough to pull off being a teenager. I know lots of people have called out Zegler’s performance as Oscar-worthy and she’s even won some critics’ nominations for Best Actress, but I personally think her singing is more captivating than her acting. That’s not to say she’s not a good actress, but I don’t think it’s a stellar enough performance for me if it were a regular, non-singing role.

Still, it’s an impressive feature debut and she is definitely far more charismatic than Elgort. I remember he was quite good in Baby Driver, but Elgort has a rather bland presence despite having a really good singing voice. One can’t talk about him without mentioning the sexual assault allegations, now I don’t subscribe to ‘cancel culture’ that runs rampant in the social media age of today, but I’d rather give the filmmakers/producers the benefit of the doubt that they must not have found sufficient enough reason to recast him. I do think an actor with more charisma would’ve totally rocked the role. Elgort’s Tony hardly makes my heart skip a beat.


For me, the two MVPs of the film are Ariana DeBose as Anita and Rita Moreno as Valentina. I remember in one of the sequence featuring Anita, I turned to my husband and said, ‘this girl is so magnetic!’ I’ve never seen DeBose in anything before but I sure hope she gets more prominent roles. It’s interesting to note as Moreno had played Anita in the original film, and her character plays a huge role here, especially in THAT scene where Anita is trapped in a shop with all the Jets boys. Let’s just say if it weren’t for Valentina, it would’ve been a terrible situation for Anita. I actually watched the Rita Moreno documentary where she talked about filming that scene, and because she is Puerto Rican herself, that scene was extremely difficult for her. 


Out of the Sharks, David Alvarez stood out as the brooding Bernardo, he reminds me of young Russell Crowe in the role. Non-binary actress Iris Menas is quite memorable as Anybodys, a former-tomboy character that’s been updated to be a transgender who worships the Jets and wants to be a part of the gang. It’s one of the more inclusive approach of this new adaptation, and I also appreciate that this version is appropriately bilingual with the Puerto Rican speaking Spanish quite often.

Spielberg directed the script written by his longtime collaborator Tony Kushner, who also worked on Munich (2005) and Lincoln (2012) together. In many ways, the narrative is actually pretty timely and topical given the immigration theme– the Sharks are Puerto Rican wanting to fit in and be accepted, while the territorial white boys in the Jets feel threatened by their existence and want to maintain status quo. Definitely sounds really familiar in today’s political climate.


One quibble I have is with the ending however. Now, I’m glad that somehow the finale hasn’t been spoiled for me, as I had no idea who would live or die by the end. Yet the finale didn’t really pull my heartstring as I expected. I think I just wasn’t as emotionally involved with the star-crossed lovers, I wasn’t as moved by the ending of say, Moulin Rouge! which is another doomed-love story musical.

 In any case, I’m glad I finally saw a West Side Story cinematic adaptation and watching it at a Dolby Cinema was quite a treat for the senses! Those who see this for the first time will likely be swept up by it and fans of the classic would appreciate this version that fixes the racial issues but also honors the beauty of the original. This film further proves that Spielberg’s still got it and he is truly a master filmmaker who can thrive in any genre.

4/5 stars

Have you seen the latest WEST SIDE STORY? Let me know what you think!

Weekend Roundup: Quick review of BABY DRIVER (2017)

Happy [almost] Fourth of July weekend! It’s not really a long weekend for me as I’ll be working both Monday AND Wednesday, though the office is pretty much dead today with everyone taking a day off.

Last week was a pretty hectic one, hence I hadn’t even posted anything other than my short film update. Well, as if making movies wasn’t nerve wracking enough, I also launched a crowdfunding campaign is Kickstarter campaign last week. We had a good start but we still have a long way to go before we reach our goal.

Shout out to Paula, Shivani, Mark, and Nostra for your tremendous support on various social media channels!

This weekend I did manage to fit in a movie night… and it was a ton of fun!

Move over Guardians of the Galaxy. I think the movie w/ the best retro soundtrack this year belongs to Baby Driver. It’s also one helluva heist action flick that gets your blood pumpin’ from start to finish.

I like Edgar Wright and his Three Flavours Cornetto film trilogy (especially Hot Fuzz!) but for some reason I haven’t been paying much attention to Baby Driver. I think I only read an article a while back when it was a hit at SXSW and then of course I was intrigued by the stellar reviews (97% on Rotten Tomatoes!) So naturally I had a high expectations going into this movie. Fortunately it didn’t disappoint!

I dig car chases!! I grew up w/ two brothers and played with matchbox cars instead of Barbie dolls as a kid so I always enjoy a thrilling car chase in the movies! Man, what an opening scene!! You can watch how they made it in this featurette. That’s perhaps one of the best car chases since the first Transporter flick, but this time we’ve got a kid at the wheel with a cutesy name Baby (Ansel Elgort). Yep it’s B-A-B-Y. Hence the title.

It’s obvious Wright himself is a big fan of heist movies and crazy car chases, and it shows. He’s also got an ear for music, and music is truly the fuel for this exciting ride. You go see this for the action, but there’s also a pretty compelling story and a character worth rooting for. Elgort isn’t the most charismatic young actor but he acquits himself well here and it’s easy to root for Baby who’s had a tragic past and wants out of the crime business. He’s surrounded by a fun supporting cast: Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, Eiza González, and Lily James as Baby’s love interest. I’d say it’s quite inspired casting, especially in regards to Jon Hamm. The romance between Lily and Ansel seems deliberately too cutesy, cheesy even, but it’s kind of sweet, too.

In a way, Baby Driver is a heist flick & coming-of-age movie in one. And that makes it refreshingly original, as we see this kid who gets picked on and taken advantage of finally breaking free and coming into his own. The rather restrained ending is quite a pleasant surprise to me given how many blockbusters seem to go for deafeningly-bombastic finale.

So if you’re in the mood for fun music, crazy action and some sweet little romance, you can’t go wrong with Baby Driver.This movie’s also got heart to go with all the cool moves. And of course, plenty of Wright’s cheeky brand of humor too.


Have you seen ‘BABY DRIVER’? Well, what did you think? 

Musings on the Han Solo spinoff & who we’d like to see as young Solo


So a couple of days ago when Twitter was all abuzz with news of the upcoming Han Solo spinoff movie, I was rather ho-hum about it. I’m not exactly clamoring to see this, nor the throng of other spin-offs as Disney’s milking the Star Wars franchise for all its worth. $4 Bil is really chump change considering the potential it could rake from it.

ChrisMillerPhilLordI suppose out of all the inevitable spin-offs, the Han Solo movie could be a fun action/adventure movie, that is if they get the casting right. Before I get to that, at least on paper they seem to get the directing pick right. The LEGO Movie directors Chris Miller & Phil Lord are going to be helming this, and it seems that directing duos seem to have worked well for the company [i.e. Anthony & Joe Russo w/ the excellent Captain America: The Winter Soldier]. The also have a father/son duo Lawrence Kasdan and Jon Kasdan to pen the script, the former has written Star Wars Episode V and VI, as well as Raiders of the Lost Arc. According to THR, Miller was apparently an intern at Lucasfilm, and he was once asked to step into a Stormtrooper costume for one of George Lucas’ Special Edition Star Wars movies. How cool that life seems to have come full circle for him!

Now on to casting!

There have been a bazillion posts in the past couple of days and frankly, some of the choices they listed on some major sites are so preposterous. I mean Shia LaBeouf? Dave Franco? Zac Efron?? [smh] EW even suggested Ted and my worst nemesis, Jai Courtney, who’s more wooden than the Pechanga Oak Tree!

Now, I texted my pal Ted what his thoughts are on this whole project, so let’s start with that…

Ted’s thoughts

Like many Star Wars fans, Han Solo is my favorite character from the original trilogy. Personally I don’t really have the urge to see a film about Solo, even though he’s my favorite character from the franchise, I don’t know if his back story would be that interesting since he wasn’t involved with saving the universe until he met Obi-Wan and Luke years later. I’ll have an open mind and hope that the writers can come up with some good story about Solo’s past but till then count me as one of the people who don’t really have that much interest about this potential franchise for Disney.TaronEgerton2

Of course people have already about which actor should be playing young Solo, I’ve read somewhere that Aaron Paul is the favorite? Well I’m in the minority here and say that he would be an awful choice if he was cast in the role. Nothing against Aaron, he’s great in Breaking Bad and I can never see him as any character but Jesse.

I think they should go with an unknown for the role and my choice would be Taron Egerton. He’s not that well known yet and I thought he’s great in Kingsman: The Secret Service. If Disney decides to go with a better known actor then my choice would be the current golden boy Chris Pratt.

Ruth’s Thoughts

Funny that as I was driving home, I was exactly thinking that they should cast an unknown. I mean, Ford was still a carpenter when Lucas hired him to read lines for actors auditioning for parts in Star Wars! [per Wiki] Now, I’m not suggesting they cast some dolly grip or something, after all Ford did have supporting roles already by the time he was cast.

Well, the first person that came to mind was the same one that Ted suggested. We thought Taron Egerton has that mischievous, rebellious quality that fit the role of the space scoundrel. Solo is one of the great leaders of the Rebel Alliance so he should have that commanding presence but doesn’t take himself so seriously. The 26-year-old Taron is Welsh, but hey, it never stops Hollywood from casting UK actors in quintessentially American roles.


Now, my second choice is an even more obscure actor who’s actually been in a film with Ford himself. Anthony Ingruber played the younger version of Ford’s character in The Age of Adaline and his resemblance to Ford is uncanny! I literally yelped when I first saw him in the trailer, I thought they did a ‘digital facelift’ technique or something like they did with Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in X-Men 3.


He’s also done amazing impressions of Solo in this video he posted back in 2008, but now seven years has passed so he’s more mature looking and hopefully has more acting experience as well. Anthony is 25 and 6-feet tall (a mere inch shorter than Ford) and if you watch the video, even his voice is so similar to Ford’s.

I hope they’d at least consider inviting this guy for an audition. I realize that good acting takes more than just the ability to do impressions of the original actor, but hey it’s a good start.

Another young actor that might fit the part is Ansel Elgort whom I’ve met when he was promoting Divergent. He’s only 21 though, so a little on the young side, but he’s got quite a swagger and ‘old soul’ quality about him even when two years ago. He’s a NYC native, VERY tall (6’4″) with a rather deep voice. He’s quite popular with the teen crowd I reckon, thanks to The Fault in Our Stars, and I think he’s a decent actor.


Another name that keep getting a mention every time there’s a reboot of one of Ford’s many lucrative franchises is Chris Pratt. Now, I think he’s practically already playing a Han-Solo type role in The Guardians of the Galaxy, I’d rather see him as Indiana Jones.

The project is now set for a May 25, 2018 release, so we’ll probably be hearing casting news in the next few months.


So let the casting discussion commence… who would YOU like to see cast as Han Solo?

TCFF 2014 Opening Night Festivities + ‘Men, Women & Children’ review


Today’s the day! The fifth annual Twin Cities Film Fest kicked off with the Minnesota premiere of Jason Reitman’s latest drama, Men, Women & Children. As he always does year after year, TCFF Executive Director Jatin Setia introduced the film and asked the packed audience to give him a five to commemorate our fifth year bringing the film fest to cinephiles and casual moviegoers alike in the Twin Cities and beyond!

Jatin also pointed out the social cause that our film fest bring to the community since year one, when the social theme of the year was education, hence Waiting for Superman was the opening night film back in 2010. We’ve since introduced a CHANGEMAKER series, with the tagline ‘Watch. Learn. Act.’ Check out this FREE event on Friday, Oct 24 at 6:30 event, presenting “Breaking Free from the Life” documentary, followed by Survivor Panel event at Showplace ICON Theatre Lobby.

OldFashioned2015Early in the evening, just before the first screening of the year, I had the privilege of chatting with Rik Swartzwelder, the writer/director/star of Old Fashioned, which will have two showings at TCFF! I’m glad we’re showing a film like this, a classic romance where two people attempt the impossible … an “old-fashioned” courtship in contemporary America. Now that is rare indeed in today’s culture. I really enjoyed our conversation, so stay tuned for the full interview transcript later this week!

Here are some pics from tonight’s festivities:

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And lookie here… the lovely Haley Lu Richardson, who’s got not one but TWO films screening at TCFF, is in town and having a blast! Looking forward to chattin’ with her tomorrow morning 😀

Can’t help joining on the fun, too w/ my pal Julie 😀


Now on to the first TCFF review of the year…


Men, Women and Children (2014)

Jason Reitman has a knack for portraying interesting [read: quirky] relationships in his films. This is his sixth feature film and once again he explores relationships and its predicaments. This time it’s set in the age of the internet, as Emma Thompson narrates throughout the film whilst we’re shown views of earth from space. The film is a blatant commentary of how we are inevitably affected by the enormous social change that comes through digital devices such as our phones, tablets, laptops, etc. that many of us can’t live without. Nobody is immune, as the title of the film says, the internet affects every man, woman and child [except perhaps the Amish people] and alters how we deal/view relationships with each other.

It’s a topic that’s as relevant and timely as ever, and the concept itself is appealing because most of us today can relate to this. Alas, I don’t think the execution quite hit the mark here. The performances are good but somehow the story took too long to built, and in the end it just wasn’t as engaging as I’d have liked it to be. Right away the theme of the film reminds me of Disconnect which also deals with how ‘disconnected’ we have become in an age where everything is readily available to us at the touch of a button. That film isn’t perfect either but I think it did a better job in telling the story and made us care for the characters.


Except for a few, most of the characters don’t feel real to me, they’re more caricatures painted with such broad strokes of opposite extremes. One set of parent is waaay too strict about protecting their kids from the danger of the internet, and the other are waaaay too loose that they lose sight of even the most basic societal boundaries are in regards to what/how much one should share online and such. A lot of these characters are so predictable, you expect them to behave in a certain way and voila, they do exactly that. Most of the young actors playing the teens seem so awkward here, and their story lines are too heavy-handed but in the end they’re not fully-realized either.

Adam Sandler gives a restrained performance as one half of a couple in a troubled marriage, with Rosemarie DeWitt playing his bored housewife. Their marriage is as lethargic as the way these interwoven stories are portrayed. Try as I might, the stories just don’t quite captivate me. DeWitt’s scenes with Dennis Haysbert is perhaps one of the most cringe-inducing scenes I’ve seen all year. I know it’s supposed to be awkward given the circumstances, but it’s the way it’s directed that’s problematic, so I don’t blame the actors. It’s too bad as I like DeWitt as an actress and I think Sandler does have dramatic chops when he choose to use it. I’m more impressed by the secondary characters played by Ansel Elgort, Kaitlyn Dever and Dean NorrisJennifer Garner is as dour and stern as I’ve never seen her before, playing an overprotective & controlling mother that undoubtedly produces the opposite effect of what she’s trying to achieve.


The use of music is a bit odd too, sometimes the songs played are so loud that it felt jarring, and others there’s not a single sound as the camera zooms in on an actor’s face with no word is spoken. The visuals are as somber as the stories, the muted color palette just isn’t aesthetically pleasing here. But the look of the film is the least of the its problems. I just think Reitman, who’s a gifted filmmaker who’s made terrific work such as Thank You For Smoking and Up in the Air, is trying too hard here in striving to be profound and philosophical. Now, the themes presented here certainly are thought-provoking and the idea that face-to-face human relationships just can’t be replaced by technology isn’t lost on me. I just wish the film were more engaging as I found myself looking at my watch a few times, even as the last third did improve a bit in terms of pacing. Perhaps a more straight-forward approach and injecting a bit more humor into this might’ve made the film more palatable and entertaining. It’s not a terrible film per se, but I expected a lot better from Reitman.


Well that’s it for Day 1 folks, stay tuned for more TCFF coverage in the coming days!

FlixChatter Review: The Fault in Our Stars (2014)

AshleyBanner FaultInOurStarsPoster

I read The Fault in Our Stars and absolutely adored it. You can read my full review here! The dialogue was witty, sharp and fun and the characters were well developed. I’m also a huge fan of the television show “Friends.” Each friend lends a different perspective and balances each other out. Without all six friends, the show wouldn’t work. After digesting the novel in one sitting, this is precisely how I felt about each character. So, when I discovered TFIOS was destined for the big screen, I’ll admit I had my reservations. With that said, the film happily exceeded my expectations. 

Forget what you might’ve heard, but this is not a film about cancer. It’s about relationships; more specifically, two teenagers who experience real love for the first time. Cancer just happens to be their particular obstacle. Fun fact, the title is actually borrowed from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar:” 

“Men at some time are masters of their fates. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) is battling Stage IV thyroid cancer, forcing her to wear a nasal cannula and carry an oxygen tank. Augustus (Gus) Waters (Ansel Elgort) has osteosarcoma (bone cancer) which caused him to lose part of his leg. The two meet in a cancer support group and they bond over ‘An Imperial Affliction,’ which just so happens to be a novel about a woman dealing with cancer.


For being so young, their relationship is so mature yet innocent at the same time.  

Both Woodley and Elgort were believable as romantic interests, and, in my opinion, captured the sarcastic and clever nature of their respective characters. More importantly, not only did they portray the fear of living with cancer as teenagers, but also showed they are more than just their cancer. Even with death close on their heels, they demonstrated compassion and wisdom beyond their years. Woodley and Elgort perfected the boldness and insecurities of their characters. 

Woodley and Elgort actually appeared in another blockbuster YA film adaptation as brother and sister in Divergent! Admittedly, Elgort’s role was somewhat forgettable. However, to be fair, he isn’t integral to the plot of the first story; whereas, I was blown away by my introduction to Woodley. I can pleasantly say Elgort’s performance in TFIOS will not be so readily forgotten. He was gentle, sweet, caring, and was surprisingly confident for one so young. 


There was one character I was particularly looking forward to seeing encapsulated on-screen. Peter Van Houten (Willem Dafoe) is the author of ‘An Imperial Affliction,’ but abruptly ended his novel in an unorthodox manner. Questions on what happens to the characters have plagued Hazel, and now Gus. Even though his novel was a vast success, Van Houten became a recluse and moved to Amsterdam. Needless to say, Van Houten is a quirky, bitter and cantankerous character, who also happens to be an alcoholic. I purposely avoided watching too many trailers and monitoring casting, as I wanted to be, for the most part, uninformed. So, I won’t spoil the surprise for you. I will say I loved the casting choice, and I think you will too. After seeing the film, I don’t think there was anyone else who could’ve pulled this character off (without being too showy or typecast).  


Also, I was relieved to see a majority of the novel remained the tone and plot remained intact. There were a few tweaks and edited scenes I would like to have seen fully, but as a whole it really works. Director Josh Boone (Stuck in Love) has created an accurate, beautiful and humorous interpretation of a most beloved novel. I think in large, this is due to the fact author John Green was consulted and marginally involved with the production. Nevertheless, he has given his stamp of approval.

I highly recommend seeing this film; although, be prepared for an emotional roller-coaster. If crying in a dark movie theatre surrounded by strangers doesn’t appeal to you, then maybe save this one for the privacy of your own home. However, if you are bold enough, go see this film! It’ll make you laugh, cry and swoon all at the same time. 

4.5 out of 5 reels


What do you think of The Fault in Our Stars? 

FlixChatter Double Review: DIVERGENT


I thought I’d post a double reviews as we have different perspectives coming into the film. Ashley has read the book by Veronica Roth, but I haven’t. Did we end up with the same or very different conclusions? Read on.

Ruth’s Review

Set in a post-apocalyptic Chicago, society has been divided into five factions based on virtues: Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). Someone is considered divergent when the results of their required aptitude test show that they don’t fit neatly into one faction, which is considered a threat by the leaders who want to maintain a perfectly controlled society. When Beatrice ‘Tris’ Prior (Shailene Woodley) finds out she is divergent, she’s warned by the test administrator (Maggie Q) to keep it a secret. On Choosing Day, where every 16-year-old must choose which faction to belong to, Tris chooses to be in Dauntless. The film pretty much focuses on how Tris and fellow new faction members undergo the extreme physical and psychological training in Dauntless, the military-like group that’s assigned to defend threats from outside the city walls.

It’s a lot to take in but somehow director Neil Burger makes it quite easy to follow. It also helps to that right away I can identify with Tris, thanks to Woodley‘s engaging portrayal. Though in the promo materials she’s shown like this tough, bad ass heroine in skin-tight outfit, she actually appears far more human and therefore relatable in the film. The long exposition does a sufficient job developing the main characters, that is Tris and her mysterious faction trainer called Four (Theo James).
I like the fact that Tris is realistically shown as being vulnerable and out of her element, as one would imagine if you’re thrown into a faction like Dauntless. There’s an interesting dynamics between Tris and fellow Dauntless members, most notably the bully (Miles Teller, who interestingly played her love interest in The Spectacular Now), and the best friend (Zoë Kravitz). Thankfully the romance didn’t become the main focus in the film, and I’m glad Tris wasn’t made out to be this clingy, lovelorn ingenue. There’s enough chemistry between Woodley and James, and if the romance feels unconvincing at times, I think it’s intentional as the characters are still trying to trust each other.
As the male lead, 29-year-old Theo James proves to be another fetching, crush-worthy Brit who projects a ‘manly tough guy with a heart’ persona. I’ve only seen him as the indelible Mr. Pamuk who seduced Lady Mary in Downton Abbey, but I certainly would like to see more of him in Hollywood. Ansel Elgort is quite effective in his brief scene as Woodley’s brother Caleb who chooses to be in Erudite. The ‘faction over blood’ revelation is handled quite nicely here in their brief but important scene together. The supporting cast are pretty good overall. The casting of Ashley Judd as Woodley’s mother is so spot on as they have such a strong resemblance, and their scene together toward the end is perhaps one of the most heart-wrenching in the film.
The third act is the most action-packed, involving hostile coup d’etat by drugged-up troops, as well as hand-to-hand fight sequences. A lot of it reminds me of the futuristic actioner Equilibrium in which independent will/thought is forbidden under an authoritarian government, but without the over-the-top Gun Kata martial arts that ended up taking over the story. The filmmaker seems to care and respect Roth’s vision of a flawed dystopian society, instead of just setting out to make a cool action adventure. The cinematography is quite beautiful, especially the scenes from above the Ferris Wheel. Plus, as I’ve visited Chicago often, it’s nice to see it being prominently featured on a film as the city itself, instead of as a sub for something else, i.e. Gotham.
Now, the main issue I have with the film is the pacing. It starts rather too slow for my liking and it didn’t quite pick up until the third act. The script by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor spends most of the film expounding the idea of what these factions is all about and Tris’ struggle to find her identity. I don’t know if the book is the same way, but the film barely explains the bigger picture of the society we’re dealing with and what’s outside the city walls. We’re only told briefly that wars have destroyed most of the world, but how and what really happened was never mentioned. Another weak aspect is the main villain Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet), an Erudite leader who adamantly believes Divergents must be eradicated. Now, I’m a fan of Winslet as an actress, and granted she has the presence to elevate the material, yet I don’t find her to be menacing nor sinister enough to be effective. In a story like this, I think a strong adversary would help convey what’s really at stake for these characters.
In the end, it’s the earthy and affable Woodley that keeps the film afloat because I’m invested in her story and her journey. It’s inevitable that given the young adult target audience, the dystopian setting and the fact that it also features a young female protagonist, Divergent will always be compared to The Hunger Games. But having seen the film, I think it has enough distinguishing features to set itself apart and stand on its own two feet. It’s by no means perfect, but despite the flaws, I quite enjoyed it. The ending explicitly sets up a sequel and you know what, I’m actually curious to see what happens next for Tris and Four.




Giveaway Details: The first 50 people who leaves their email address in the comments will be put into a drawing to win the prize pack. The sole winner will be notified via email on Monday March 24. Contest closes on Sunday March 23, 11:59 pm CST. Contest opens to Minnesota residents only.  Contest is now closed. Winner will be notified by Monday 3/24 at 6pm CST.

Ashley’s Review

Just a fair warning, I tried my best to keep my indifferent feelings about the novel separate from my feelings about the film adaptation. While the film followed the novel fairly closely, I wasn’t blown away by their interpretation. When I saw Catching Fire I felt so engrossed in the world and drama, it felt like I was actually right there with Katniss and Peeta; however, in Divergent I truly felt more like a spectator rather than a participant.  I’ve decided to break my review into three points: casting, score and cinematography.


This was my first encounter with Shailene Woodley (Beatrice Prior) and I have to say I was really impressed. Divergent explores the limits of a person’s mental and physical toughness, so needless to say they needed someone who could portray Tris’ struggles as she begins her training. In the novel Tris is described as being physically weaker than her other initiates and, according to her, plain. While I wouldn’t call Woodley plain, I think she fit the bill perfectly. I was continually surprised by Woodley’s range of emotions. She proved she can handle comedy by delivering perfect biting one-liners, we see raw and tender moments as it becomes clear she’s not the ultimate warrior (quite the opposite from Hunger Games) and her struggles to separate herself from the connection to her previous faction (Abnegation). However, I wasn’t convinced by her romantic portrayal with Four/Tobias (Theo James).


As much as I enjoyed James for the eye candy (you’ll know when you see it), I honestly felt like he was too old. Especially since they tried to make Woodley look very frail and innocent, their pairing just seemed creepy. Here’s where the novel and film have a major difference. We’re given more scenes, stolen looks and inner dialogue to see a romantic relationship start to bud, but in the film everything felt forced, awkward and rushed.

I agree with Ruth about Kate Winslet’s performance (Jeanine). In the novel she’s supposed to be a threatening and controlling totalitarian leader, but instead Jeanine comes across as arrogant. I didn’t have the same fear instilled in me like I did with Donald Sutherland’s portrayal of President Snow.


Another big miss was the tension between Eric (Jai Courtney) and Four. In the film Eric is portrayed as this meathead, where in the novel he’s much lankier and values brains over brawns. We learn the rules for Dauntless initiation are changing and are more cut-throat, leaving the unsuccessful factionless. Four is a big proponent of the traditional ways, but in the film we only see glimpses of their discord. Not enough to justify Eric’s attempted murder towards the end of the film.

Score vs. soundtrack
I thought the techno-vibe score (composed by Junkie XL) was well done. It really seemed to match a futuristic setting and the sometimes abrasive mannerisms of the Dauntless. However, I had some qualms about the soundtrack. I’m a big fan of Ellie Goulding and realize she was selected to help produce the soundtrack, but it was Goulding overload. I enjoy her music but after featuring three or four songs, it felt like I was listening to her on repeat. It was enough to pull me out of the film. This might not matter so much to you, but I’m a big believer in a score or soundtrack’s ability to intensify a film’s emotions. To me it’s just as important as acting.


While there aren’t as many fantastical scenes as The Hunger Games trilogy, I think it could’ve been very easy to create the action scenes in CG, and I’m glad they refrained. There are still some elements, but I felt like they relied upon unique camera angles and amazing props instead. And it paid off. However, the film’s pacing felt rather slow. I can understand they were trying to adhere to the novel as much as possible, but I didn’t start to feel engrossed until 2/3 of the way in.


One particular scene that comes to mind is when Tris takes her aptitude test. She awakes in a room made entirely of floor length mirrors. I thought this was brilliantly done because each time Tris turned, multiple versions of herself would appear, slowly, which really added to the panic, claustrophobia and confusion this scene was trying to convey. I was really impressed by how the film handled the fear landscape simulations. Again, this could’ve been very cheesy, but it definitely lived up to my imagination. I think fans of the novel will appreciate it as well.

As far as young adult dystopian film adaptations go, I felt like the Divergent did a really nice job of incorporating the big elements from the novel. I was really excited to see how they handled Tris begin her training in Dauntless, the Ferris wheel war games scene and finally the fear landscape simulations. To be fair, I think this is one of those films where it’s better upon second review (as was my first impression with The Hunger Games). Overall, I think this captured the tone of the novel and leaves you with anticipation with what’s to come.



Well, that’s our thoughts on Divergent. Let us know what YOU think of the movie.

Divergent interview with author Veronica Roth & cast member Ansel Elgort


It’s always fun when as a blogger I get to talk to some of the talents involved in a movie. I think it’s especially awesome when I get to chat with an author of a best-selling series like Divergent. As part of the press tour nationwide, author Veronica Roth and cast member Ansel Elgort (who played Caleb Prior, Shailene Woodley’s brother in the movie) walked down the red carpet and greeted a throng of fans at Mall of America theaters. I only went to the screening right after that, but here are some pics from the festivities, courtesy of Zimbio:

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Now, I haven’t got a chance to read any of the books before I saw the movie but I did go to the screening the night before the interview and I really dug it. It has similarities to Hunger Games in terms of having a strong female protagonist and that the story would appeal to adults as well as the targeted demographic of young adults. Yet I do think the story is quite different and a pretty compelling one too I might add. I’ve come to like Shailene Woodley a lot more after this (I’ve only seen her in The Descendants). I’ll definitely check out her next movie The Fault of Our Stars out this Summer, which also stars Elgort as Woodle’s love interest.

In case you haven’t read the books, here’s the plot of Divergent: The story takes place in the city of Chicago in the near future. The city is divided into 5 factions: Abnegation, meant for the selfless; Amity, meant for the peaceful; Candor, meant for the honest; Dauntless, meant for the brave; and Erudite, meant for the knowledgeable. On a given day each year, all 16-year-olds take an aptitude test that will tell them for which faction they are best suited. After receiving the results of their test, they must decide whether to remain with their family or transfer to a new faction.

Thanks ALLIED for co-ordinating the interview roundup. There are six interviewers in the roundtable so below are all the questions, I marked MY questions with an (*) in front of it.

Here’s the transcript from the interview:

Q (for Veronica): I work with 8th-graders and quite a few of them are into the books and the movie. What can kids like Tris who feels that they’re outsiders can take away from this?

Veronica: Gosh, I mean I’m a little afraid of messages, especially for young people. I just hope that the book entertains but also provokes questions that I hope they can find their own answers to them. But as far as kids who don’t fit in, I feel that what Tris ultimately learns is even though she can’t fulfill the expectations of her society, she can find belonging with people that she loves who can take care of her and whom she loves. That’s sort of the *message* that she embraces, which is that love and loyalties are more important than other categories.

Q (for Ansel): Do you have a favorite scene to shoot and why it’s your favorite?

Ansel: Well I have to mention two scenes for two different reasons. I’ve never done an action film before or something that had action in it, so chasing after the train and jumping off to it was pretty cool. Just ’cause like I’ve never done that kind of thing but now I got to do it for my job for the day. And the other one is the scene inside the Abnegation house as it was shot inside this gigantic studio and when you walk in, there’s this little house that’s so detailed, the floors are made out of this mosaic, wood tiles, I’ve never seen anything like it. The lights are like this [pointing to the bulb in the meeting room at Graves Hotel] except without the shade so it’s just the Abnegation-style light bulb and we did this scene, which was like the last supper before we leave our faction, it’s a pretty significant scene for my character and for Beatrice, too. I was in the kitchen, cleaning up and I say y’know, ‘Don’t forget, think about yourself tomorrow.’ So I enjoyed doing that scene… it was a nice scene to do.

[At this point Veronica turned to Ansel and said, ‘That was a good scene,’ as if to compliment him]


Q (for both Veronica and Ansel): Presuming that both of you are divergents, which category would you choose for yourself?

Veronica: That is a great question because everyone always asks which factions, and it’s like ‘no, no one should be in a faction!’ Everyone has multiple aptitudes. [turns to Ansel, do you know? Do you have yours? You can answer this as I have to think about this]

Ansel: I always answer this the same way, everyone has divergent, I think a little bit, so I don’t think anyone should have to choose. Like yesterday I said that I would be Amity, but sometimes I would want to be in Dauntless, it’s always changing. I’m not even 16, I’m 19, obviously I don’t know where I should go for the rest of my life, let alone a 16-year-old. That’s why it’s a super flawed system.

Veronica: [turning to Ansel] It doesn’t change when you turn 25 either. Hmmm, aptitudes. Well, if I had to pick them, I don’t know, I feel like I’d sound like a jerk if I say, ‘well let me tell you my strength’ … I’m all of them … some more than others probably. [She then starts to mention all the factions slowly one by one] A little like Tris in that way but not in most other ways.

Roth with director Neil Burger on set
Roth with director Neil Burger on set – photo courtesy of DivergentFans.com

*Q (for Veronica): How much input did you have going into this, and how open was the studio/director to your suggestions?

Veronica: From the get-go, we have a very friendly relationship and part of that is I think that… the second the book came out, I kind of let it go. I think it belongs to the readers so much more than it belongs to me now. I mean I’ve always wanted it in a particular way, but everyone gets to interpret it in their own way and form their own opinion, so I already let it go repeatedly over and over again, even before it got to me. So I really trusted them for their respect for it and their enthusiasm for it, so I just said, ‘ok guys do what you do best.’ So I think that creates a good dynamic, like a mutual trust kind of thing, I was really open every time [director] Neil Burger or screenwriter Evan Daugherty came to me with questions. I talked to Neil throughout the process of making the movie. As far as control, I don’t even think that came up, that wasn’t an issue as I was writing my third book and that was what I wanted to be doing, so yeah.

Q (for Veronica): I’m curious about writing about kind of your own dystopian fantasy. What’s it like seeing in the film that it was projected on your hometown [Chicago]?

Veronica: It was incredibly meaningful I think. I was so proud, when they were shooting, all the jobs that was created in the area, it was the most beautiful parts of the process for me in to know that you’ve contributed in some small ways for people getting work is really wonderful. And to see Chicago on the screen. I mean movies are shot in Chicago sometimes, but they’re rarely supposed to be in Chicago, they’ll be like Gotham … so to have it be Chicago, I mean dystopian Chicago is also incredibly cool so people can see how beautiful my city is.


Q (for Veronica): What are you working on next?

Veronica: I have these four stories written from Four’s perspective, there are four of them actually. It’s coming out in July, it’s in a collection called Four. Three of them takes place before Divergent chronologically, but the fourth one sort of overlaps significantly, which was really fun ’cause it’s like writing a little love story backwards, so that’s gonna be out in July so I’m just finishing up. I don’t know what the future holds, maybe a nap …

[turns to Ansel] You need a nap too, you’ve had a very busy year. A long nap

Ansel: A long nap …

Q (for Ansel): Are you working on your next film?

Ansel: Yeah. Never mind, we don’t get a nap as we have to go to the next movie. We’ll do Insurgent in May or June. That’s the hope, You never know, I mean you really don’t know, but I’m gonna be optimistic.  I saw the movie and it’s good, right… you guys saw it, and it’s not like a bad movie at all, it’s a good movie… I mean if the movie sucks I’d be like, I don’t know, but they’re gonna make another one as it’s a good movie … It doesn’t have to be the biggest movie of the year, it just have to do well and I think it will.

Q: What’s it like to be successful at such a young age?

Ansel: Oh I don’t know. I haven’t got time to think about ‘oh I’m successful now’ yet. It sort of happened in the last year. Ah yeah, I guess I’m successful, it’s nice [laughter] I worked really hard. I went to an acting high school, acting middle school and I never wasn’t in a show for like 9 years of my life. And just, after school programs, Summer camps, whatever. And suddenly it sort of turned to be in real movies and stuff. Carrie [the 2013 remake] was the first one like I’ve been in anything with a camera in it, it was insane.

Veronica: [To Ansel] You said you worked really hard. But you’re also very lucky. Because to say that ‘Oh I worked hard and so I earned it or whatever’ is kind of lame because there are so many very, very talented people who worked very, very hard for a very long time and it just doesn’t happen. The timing of it I think is a big part of it, so I feel very fortunate. And also know that I have to work harder every day to become a better writer, because to say that you peak at your writing skills at 25, that’s kind of sad. So my goals is just to improve.

Ansel: I think luck is when opportunity meets preparation.

Veronica: Oh, nice. Whose quote is that?

Ansel: Not mine, I tell you that. Someone else told me that but now it’s mine [laughter]

Divergent's protagonist Beatrice 'Tris' Prior with Dauntless' leader FOUR
Divergent’s protagonist Beatrice ‘Tris’ Prior with Dauntless’ leader FOUR

Q (for Veronica): Out of all the human characteristics in the world, how did you choose the five of that you choose to represent the factions?

Veronica: Because they’re very personal to me. I think um, because a lot of it was writing this series was examining my own tendencies, which y’know, I, like a lot of people, categorize other people easily. And I think when we find those categories, you find it easier to dismiss people. So writing the books was a little bit, it was deeply convicting for me to examine my own tendencies to do that. So when I was creating the system, that’s kind of how I thought of it as very personal, which qualities that I think would form like a functional society, but also tackle most of the areas that I think are deeply problematic in human nature. So Dauntless was first, Candor was last. That’s why Candor was a little bit like, ‘What did I do again?’ [laughter] Now I know what Candor does, but in the first book I was like ‘Hmmm, hmmm…’ But yeah, that’s how I chose those factions.

Q (for Ansel): Can you talk a little bit about “Ansolo”?

[Per Wikipedia, Ansel started a soundcloud account and a facebook account a while ago with the name of “Ansolo”, the alter-ego that he uses for DJ and producer of House/Dance Music. He does remix of popular songs like Lana Del Rey´s Born to Die. He plays has a DJ in times in different clubs. Check out his music on Soundcloud]

Ansel: Yeah, yeah, y’know, the last thing that I write was like 6 months ago, but now I have about 4-5 original records that are releasing. I’ve signed with a top agent too for music, it’s going really well. That’s the thing…  I don’t want to just be an actor my whole life. I mean I do want to be an actor my whole life but not only an actor, I want to be an artist. Before acting I was really into painting miniatures, when I was a kid I told my mom I wanted to be a miniature painter and she’s like, ‘that sounds good.’ I’m lucky that I have supportive parents and they’ve supported me in anything I want to do. Right now music is what I spend a lot lot lot of time on… specifically on dance music. Before dance music, I was just writing music on the piano and singing, like John Legend kind of like soul music. Then my friend showed me electronic dance music, and how you can produce music on a computer. It’s like our generation’s music and I was so into it and now I do it non-stop. My record should be coming out in about a month in a UK label, I’m excited to announce it and it’s gonna be cool. And yeah, all originals.


*Q (for Ansel): You’ve played Shailene Woodley’s brother in Divergent, but in your next one, you’ll be playing her love interest in The Fault of Our Stars. How’s the transition going, as you’re doing that in the same year, with the same co-star?

Ansel: It’s great. I took that as a huge, huge compliment. I mean of course there are people who aren’t actors, even people at the studio who I know were a little hesitant to cast me. But the fact that they put me with Shailene Woodley in two movies in a row. And I think Shailene is one of the best young actresses around right now, is a huge compliment to me. I was like ‘Damn that’s crazy, and of course I want to be in both movies.’ The fact that they overlooked that is great. But it should be overlooked. I mean Miles Teller was just in a movie with Shailene where they played lovers [in The Spectacular Now] and here [in Divergent] he’s Peter, who’s not exactly Shailene’s love interest in this movie. So that’s part of acting. I think back to in high school, for four years you’re with the same ensemble of actors playing Shakespeare, musical theater and all this different things, so it’s kind of cool that in the actual industry that I feel like I have this acting ensemble with Shailene and we’re really good friends, I hope that I’ll do ten movies with her before I die, y’know.

Q (Caleb): One of the more interesting things in the film is when Tris came to see Caleb and Caleb turned his back on her. Now, I was wondering about the motivation for Caleb, was he strong in his conviction or did he do it out of fear?

Ansel: No I think he was strong in his conviction at that point. I think in Abnegation in the beginning of the story, when Beatrice didn’t help the [faction-less] woman with the bags, he said, ‘What’s your problem?’ He plays by the rules, he’s a model citizen in any system he lives in. He leaves Abnegation because he wants to know more. But once he’s in Erudite, he’s proud to be there and he’s excited, he definitely believes in ‘Faction before Blood,’ He’s systematic and he goes with that, it’s pretty straight forward.

Veronica: I think it’s very logical, his Abnegation side. Ok I will follow the rules, it’s like what you’re supposed to do, I’m going to do it.

Ansel: There’s a woman with the bags, I go help her. That’s why he’s a lawyer in Erudite to begin with. [When Beatrice] says, ‘Our parents are in trouble, they’re gonna take over Abnegation’ And I said, ‘I know, I know they’re up to something, we should take over, Erudite should be in charge.’ Yeah I think it’s tough moment, you have to get yourself in that mindset, it’s a turning point in their relationship where she realizes there will be ‘faction before blood.’ It foreshadows what’s going to happen in the future.

Q (for Ansel): When you did your research for this book, did you talk to Veronica and say hey, this is what I see…

Ansel: No, we didn’t talk. I mean, now that we’re on a press tour together we talk about Caleb. It’s very beneficial to have the author, the creator of the character to be able to talk to you. But I did most of the figuring out for myself, and with Neil, because a lot of the times, the writer isn’t even on set. Or they give away, they sell the rights of the book and they’re off, they’re not part of the process at all.

Veronica: I was there.

Ansel: Yeah she was there.

Veronica: Pretty frequently, but for some reason less when Ansel was around.

Ansel: We almost never ran into each other, that’s why we didn’t talk. Otherwise we definitely would have as the talk we have was very beneficial.

Veronica: When I was on set, I’d just sit there and watch. If anyone had questions then I’d try to answer them It’s the actor’s job to breath life into the characters and to interpret them even if it’s different from the way I’d interpret them, because the character is theirs, in a way. So for me, it’s important for me to let them do their work, just like I would want someone to let me do what I do best. You know, so that’s kind of my policy. Besides, you have the source material. You have everything I think about Caleb, it’s right there. I don’t have much to add, well except for the series. But then we talked, so I hopefully I wasn’t imposing too much artistic license.

Ansel: Oh no, no.

And that’s a wrap! 😀
The interview was only 20-min long so that was the last question.

Yours truly with Veronica & Ansel

Both Veronica and Ansel were sweet and gracious during the interview. I’m impressed and inspired by Veronica’s grace, intelligence and humility in her answers, she’s got such an affable personality that you can’t help but root for her. I’m thrilled for her success and hope she’d continue to write great stuff in the future!

My three dear nieces are big fans of the series, so thank you Veronica for signing the book for them! 😀


Hope you enjoy the interview! If you’ve got any comments about the Q&A, do share ’em below!