Mini Movie Reviews: Divergent and Guardians of the Galaxy

Divergent

Divergent-movieI enjoyed the Divergent trilogy, but I have often said I liked it but didn’t love it, and this is true of all three books. It seems to me those who were most passionate about the first book hated the way it ended, but for me, my feelings for the books are mostly consistent. So when I say I liked but didn’t love the movie, I’m saying it was a pretty good adaptation of a pretty good book. It hit all the high points (that I remembered) and also explained itself well to those who have not read the books (like my husband).

I do have one complaint about the movie, though, and that is I did not like the way Caleb was portrayed. I’m not sure if it was the writing or Ansel Elgort’s portrayal of him or both, but he came off so flat and dull, and I really liked him a lot in the books (yes, even during Insurgent, though I am still mad at Veronica Roth for not explaining his motives in Allegiant).

One thing I did like about the movie more than the book is that the Tris and Four romance was less prominent (though it still existed, so don’t freak out if that’s something you can’t stand to lose!). Though because of the pacing of the movie their interest seems a little sudden, but I was relieved we didn’t get multiple make-out scenes.

I think most of the actors/actresses did a great job portraying their characters, and would recommend the movie to fans of the book or to anyone who’s interested.

3.5starsGuardians of the Galaxy

guardian-of-the-galaxyI have to say, I was wary of Guardians of the Galaxy. The movie looked like it was directly aimed at 10 year old boys (maybe it was?) and it just looked too different from the Marvel cinematic universe I have come to know and love as the various Avengers’ films have rolled out. Thankfully, it turned out better than expected. It is different from the others, and the humor primarily used is not necessarily my favorite brand of humor, but it has funny moments and even tender moments. I also appreciated the fact that the characters started out as unlikable misfits that somehow turned out to be more likable misfits.

As far as its weak points go, Guardians was pretty formulaic, and I found myself guessing correctly on a few things before they were revealed. It’s no Winter Soldier, and don’t let anyone else tell you any differently.

The villain, Ronan, also left something to be desired. We are told he’s a bad dude, and he seems like a bad dude, and when given such a powerful weapon you know things can get really, really bad, but it all ended up a bit forgettable at the end. I even momentarily forgot who the villain of the movie was a few hours later. Oops.

If you’re a fan of Marvel, I would recommend it. It’s fun and a unique addition to the universe’s mythology.

Also check out these other reviews of Guardians:

Matt says it’s fun back lacks a little on heart

Aidan wasn’t too impressed with the villain but otherwise enjoyed it

3.5starsWhat are your thoughts on Divergent and/or Guardians of the Galaxy?

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Review: Allegiant

When Allegiant came out in October, I was already in the middle of the book that I knew would be my last read before NaNoWriMo, and I knew this would mean that Allegiant would become my first read in December, which meant I needed to avoid spoilers! I wouldn’t read any Allegiant reviews, even if they said they were spoiler-free, just because I didn’t want to have too many hints, though I did catch a vibe from Twitter. So while I was technically spoiler-free going into the story, I ended up being  not too surprised by what happened.

*WARNING: If you haven’t read ALLEGIANT, SPOILERS AHEAD!*

allegiantFirst, I’ll explain my feelings on the series as a  whole. I enjoyed Divergent pretty well but I didn’t LOVE it was the same passion many do. I never fell completely in love with either Tris or Tobias/Four, or really any of the other characters for that matter. The character that interested me most was Caleb. And I wanted more background on the world because I find it a little unrealistic, at least without an explanation.

I thought Insurgent was a little bit better than OK, but definitely weaker than its predecessor. For starters, reading it a year after the first book, I could not remember who virtually ANYONE was. The pacing was funny to me. I never understood the motivation for the various wars being fought and why characters were doing what they were doing, and Tris and Four’s relationship issues especially annoyed me. But there were two very bright points in this book for me (at least in terms of how interesting they were): When Tris went to Erudite headquarters (at least I think that’s where she went?) to essentially sacrifice herself, and at the very end when they see the video and hear about the outside world. BOOM! That dropped the bomb had seriously been waiting two freaking books for.

So Allegiant started… a little slow. Not super slow, but the first few chapters felt a little worthless, just some stuff I think Veronica Roth felt she had to get out of the way before she got on with the good stuff. My opinion: I think she could have left most of it out. But then once Tris, Four, and some of the others left the city (with Caleb in tow), then it got good, finally going exactly where I wanted to see the story go even though I didn’t know it until it was happening.

So let me break down a little bit of what I did like…

The history of what happened. All the questions I had in Divergent were finally answered! Genetic engineering experiments?! Oh, I was eating it up! It all clicked for me.

The ending felt fitting. I will elaborate on this more later, but I felt that the ending was actually very appropriate for the series and pretty well done.

Tobias became a much better person and character at the end. Tobias annoyed me for most of Insurgent and Allegiant, so I appreciated how after what happened to Tris, after he accepted Christina’s help, and after he reconciled with his mother, he was changed for the better. And yet things weren’t all happy and with a bow on top at the end either. It was realistic and I appreciated it.

quote-allegiantBut there were things I did not like…

– Tris and company have a lot of facts and lies and emotions to deal with while they’re in the compound outside Chicago, and they’re trying to figure out how to stop the people there from being so obsessive about fixing the “genetically damaged.” But the thing is, they weren’t exactly right in the things they ultimately did. I can’t feel like Tris died for a good cause, really, or at least not a great one. I view her death as a symbol of her sacrificial love for her family, which makes it much easier to accept than doing it to hurt the people who were hurting her. Look, I’m not saying I have a better solution, and I’m sure the point is that some things are gray and even good people with the best intentions don’t always do things the way they ought to, but I’ve seen that played out much better before (see: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine season six episode “In The Pale Moonlight”).

– Even though Tris and Tobias had a talk about what it means to respect each other and be honest (and there is a great line where Tris talks about choosing to love Tobias everyday) and they work through their issues better in this book than they did in Insurgent, their relationship still bugged me a lot. Part of it was the arguing and all that, but a lot of it was actually when they were in a good place and they were just too mushy for me. Ick. I like a good swoon, but Tris and Tobias are more vomit-inducing when they’re all lovey-dovey, at least for me personally. I honestly really wanted them to break up. Sorry.

I still couldn’t remember who ANYONE was! OK, it was not half as bad this time, but Shauna shows up in the end of Allegiant and I’m thinking, I remember this name and yet I have no recollection of who you are or why you are in a wheelchair. And a few other people like Cara… I don’t remember her. I even read Asti’s fabulous Recaptains posts to help me out but no such luck with all the characters. Either I have terrible book amnesia or Veronica Roth created too many unmemorable secondary characters.

AND THE BIGGEST PET PEEVE OF ALL…

WHAT THE HAY HAPPENED WITH CALEB?!?!?!

I mentioned earlier that in Divergent, I was interested in Caleb. I was saddened in Insurgent by what he did, but I thought, OK, in the third book we’ll find out why. Before Allegiant was released, I read somewhere that Veronica Roth said Caleb became her favorite secondary character while writing Allegiant. I thought, good, finally, we’re going to figure out what’s going on in Caleb’s head! 

gc-nope

WHAT THEY HAY VERONICA ROTH?!

I WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO CALEB!

Tris spends 99% of the book not talking to him, then they have a two minute conversation, she dies in his place, and then… Tobias talks to him, right?! Nope. Not for long enough anyway. We never find out why Caleb did what he did. HE HAD TO HAVE REASONS! I cannot believe not a single beta reader or editor was like: “Hey, so… what was Caleb thinking about in Insurgent when he betrayed his sister? I mean, he obviously cares about her… so… what gives?”

SERIOUSLY.

There better be a Caleb novella is all I gotta say.

Rant over. For now.

So I briefly addressed Tris’ death earlier… I had a feeling she or Tobias was going to die based on fan reaction, and I was kind of hoping it was going to be him, but I knew it was more likely to be her, especially once Caleb volunteered to die. So when she did die, it was like, OK, that thing I thought might happen… just happened. And I honestly felt as if a burden had been lifted from the anxiety I had about reading the end of the trilogy. I wasn’t really worried about what else was going to happen afterwards…

But when Tobias stood in front of that mirror, shaved his head, and was ready to take that serum… I think it was the first time I really, honestly cared about him. I thought, nononono he can’t do this! Christina’s intervention and all that was perfect. Hands down, it was the most poignant scene of the trilogy. And it never would have happened if Tris had not died. That scene alone made it worth it for me, and I think what it did for Tobias made it worth it too.

So, needless to say, the ending of the story was bittersweet and not-all-together pretty, but gave the proper closure for the trilogy. Except with Caleb. Grrrrr. It had flaws, but overall I thought it was solid.

4stars2

Content Advisory: Moderate language, sexual content (includes making out and an off-screen sex scene) , and violence. 

What were your thoughts on Allegiant? Did Tris’ death surprise you? Anger you? Feel right to you?

Also see: Review: Divergent and Insurgent

Round-Up and Blog/Life Update

Round-Up is my very occasional feature where I share my favorite story and media related articles from the interwebs with you! 

Divergent Trailer

If you’re interested in the Divergent movie, you’ve probably already seen the trailer for it, but if not, enjoy! I have kind of had low expectations for the movie, but the trailer looks pretty good I think! I like Divergent and Insurgent both but I don’t LOVE them the way most people do, so I probably won’t be as picky as some about how exact the story is, so hopefully I will enjoy the movie.

Strong Female Characters

buffy

I tweeted about Sophia McDougall’s piece on why she hates strong female characters as well as Erin Bowman’s agreement with the article and her take on the issue. You should check them both out, but the premise is the question of why can male characters be portrayed in a great many different ways but that female characters are basically either “weak” or strong. I like my characters to be smart, interesting, and at least not a complete push-over, regardless of whether they are male and female. I do believe there are differences between men and women and how they are wired, but none of those differences can constitute why women characters are to be perceived SO differently than male characters. They’re interesting reads, so check them out if you haven’t already!

Blog/Life Update

My September is crazy busy, folks. I have plans for every weekend, work, and a mini-vacation with my husband planned. I haven’t been too good about blogging ahead of time, so if my posting suffers this month, this is why. And same goes with commenting on others’ blogs. But I am quite excited about everything I will be doing this month! And I will certainly try to share some of these things as I go through the month!

I recently had the chance to see Kat Zhang at a local bookstore when she was doing a signing. I heard about it when I went to buy the paperback of What’s Left of Me, since I am reading and discussing it along with some other blogging friends. I also found out that she would be selling the sequel, Once We Were, two weeks early at the event, so that was further motivation to check it out! It was real low-key, and I had the chance to talk with Kat briefly and she signed both of my books. She was nice and I appreciated her taking the time to talk to me. I think I’ll be reading both books this month!

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Oh, and it’s my birthday month, just to put the icing on top of everything else. 🙂

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I may or may not use this picture every time I talk about birthdays from now on…

What’s going on in your world this September, or what media related stories have stood out to you this week? 

My Top 10 Elements in Dystopia

In my not-forgotten-but-slightly-neglected quest to figure out what works for dystopias for me and what doesn’t, I thought an excellent topic for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday freebie would be the top ten elements I like to see in dystopia stories I have read. This can be the nature of the characters, the plot, the society structure, etc., and it can be from specific stories or in general. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Sameness of the society

Though I think several dystopias have adapted this idea, but I like the way it is illustrated in The Giver the best. Not only does everyone follow the same progression through life up until they are selected for their job and start to train for those, but they do not exhibit much independent thought because of this environment. The ability has not been taken away or suppressed by drugs, but they have been encouraged through positive reinforcement all their lives to live a certain way, to not question it, and to not want any more. When Jonas learns of the past and colors and things no one else in his town knows about, it challenges his thoughts on the status quo. It’s easy for everyone to be the same, but is it really a life worth living?

2. Separation within the society

capitol-citizens

I think The Hunger Games in particular does an excellent job in showcasing a clear divide between the two main groups of people within the society: The elaborate Capitol and the struggling Districts. Not only do they force the Districts to give up children each year for the annual Hunger Games, which serve as a source of entertainment and gambling for the Capitols, but they subject the winners to their ways for the rest for their lives, so even the winners don’t really win. Some, like Finnick Odair, are even forced into prostitution because of their good looks and charming nature. Whatever the Capitol wants, the Capitol gets, and subjects the Districts to.

The Selection also shows a divide with a caste system and monarchy set in place, though I do not find Cass’ world building quite as detailed or effective as Collins’, but it does have a lot of potential.

3. The “stand-out” among the society

tris-divergent

I think there are several dytopias who have their main character a stand-out. Tris (and others) are Divergents in their society, and cannot be categorized by one faction of their society, which some see as a threat. In The Giver, Jonas stands out because he is the Receiver, he has the ability to receive past memories and see things differently than the rest of his society. In Across the Universe, those who think differently from the norm, like Elder and Harley are considered crazy, when really they are just creative and the others have had their creativity suppressed. It’s an obvious element not just for dystopia, but for any story, but it is an effective one. I believe most all of us have a desire to stand out somewhat, even if it scares us.

4. The “good guys” aren’t as good as they seem

For all the things that drove me crazy about Reached, the conclusion of the Matched trilogy, the strongest element of the story, I thought, was how it was clear that the Resistance, the “good guys” in the story, aren’t as good as they had been romanticized by Cassia and Xander to be. They are willing to sacrifice people and create chaos in the name of their cause; they turn to panic rather than logic or strategy to overthrow the government. Cassia’s world grew more gray in Reached, which I think was a necessity for that series.

It’s also interesting to see in Divergent and Insurgent how among these five factions, one cannot really be labeled “the good guys.” Yes, there are the honest ones, the peaceful ones, the humble ones… But just the same, the factions are not particularly good or particularly bad. It is the individual who is good or bad.

5. A secret rules the society/main character

In either movies or books, I am always fascinated by the notion that everything the main character has believed about their life has been a lie or at least a facade veiling secrets. It happens in Across the Universe, Insurgent, The Giver, Ender’s Game, Cinder, The Maze Runner series, and of course in other stories as well.  It’s funny when you’re on the outside looking in, not understanding why the main character can’t accept that their reality is not actual reality when it seems so obvious to you. Or sometimes, it takes the reader by surprise too. But either way, if I think about it, it would be hard for me to accept too. It’s a “what if” question that certainly makes for a fascinating string of possibilities.

6. Humans as test subjects

The-Maze-Runner-Concept-Art-Copy

The Maze Runner series was not my favorite, but one thing I did find fascinating was what these teens were being put through. First they are forced to live in an environment with a seemingly unsolvable maze (as well as potentially dangerous), and then when they finally escape it, they only face more trials that they forced to go through in the name of science and discovery. Unfortunately, I found the end of the series to be unsatisfying for an explanation as to why all these weird techniques were supposed to help, as well as an unsatisfactory resolution to the characters and their journeys, but the overall concept of using humans as test subjects is certainly fascinating.

7. Revolution

salute

This is also a common theme in dystopia, but I think the way it was built up and ultimately played out in The Hunger Games trilogy is especially fascinating. Katniss plays the rules of the game to a point, but she slowly, and not completely purposefully, starts the destruction of the system from the inside out. She also has a lot of help along the way because even a teenage girl as strong as Katniss can’t take down a whole government herself.

8. Genetic mutation/manipulation

Unfortunately I have not seen too much yet of this yet in the dystopias I have read, and in the ones I have found it in, they have been used in somewhat underwhelming and disappointing ways, but as I have mentioned before, genetic engineering fascinates me. I want to see more!

9. Strong and diverse characters

hg-characters

This, in a nutshell, is what really makes The Hunger Games stand out from other dystopias in my mind. I have never, in any other dystopia series I have read, fallen so in love with so many characters as I have in The Hunger Games. They are so well-rounded, each with such unique personalities, that they just feel so real. Sometimes I think authors get so caught up in their epic story line that they forget to give special treatment for the characters. But plot alone cannot carry a story; we need more epic characters! (Though I will say that The Lunar Chronicles are producing some pretty great characters as well, and I’m looking forward to seeing them develop more and meeting new ones in the last two books!)

10. Post-War

Any story that starts off in the ruins of a previous society marred by war, or even years after war but with lingering aftermath, (Hunger Games, Divergent, Ender’s Game, The Selection, Cinder, etc.) piques my interest. What caused the war often determines how the society is rebuilt afterwards. There is often this notion that society will be better this way than it was before, but many times, as we see, that is not necessarily true.

Books mentioned in this post:

dystopiasWhat about you? What elements interest you in dystopias?

Review: Divergent and Insurgent

I heard a lot of buzz about Divergent by Veronica Roth as I was mourning my finishing of The Hunger Games trilogy, so I placed a hold for an e-book version of it through my library and checked it out when it became available.

divergent

It was an interesting idea: the society in which the main character lives is divided into five different factions, each which have a certain focus: Erudite (intelligence), Candor (honesty), Amity (peace), Abnegation (selflessness), and Dauntless (bravery). Beatrice (later called Tris), tests well for multiple factions, which is extremely unusual (why is explained in Insurgent) and gives her the label Divergent. She ultimately chooses Dauntless when the time comes, though she was raised in Abnegation.  I didn’t really understand why a society would choose to function this way, but I decided to go along for the ride.

Beatrice decides to go by Tris as she goes through the very rigorous and exclusive training for Dauntless initiates. Not everyone will be accepted into the Dauntless faction, which will leave them factionless, a fate some would see as worse than death. She learns a lot about herself, overcomes fears, and falls for one of her trainers, who in turns likes her. Then at the end something happens, and Tris is one of the few who can fight to stop the problem (I’m remaining vague to avoid spoilers).

I enjoyed the book pretty well, though I didn’t like it quite as much as The Hunger Games, and had no problem patiently waiting for the sequel, Insurgent, to become available as an e-book in my library.

insurgent

Once it did and I got it checked it out, I accidentally selected that I only wanted it for 7 days, which isn’t a problem if I really love a book or if I have plenty of free time, but it was during the holidays, so I was wary of getting it read in time. Thankfully I did, but due to the lack of time, I did not bother to find any sort of refresher of the first book. The second book picks up right where the first leaves off, with no rehash of anything. Which I think is the way to do a second book, but apparently I had forgotten a lot in those few months, such as details of the end of the first book as well as who a lot of  the minor characters were. I think I spent the first half of the book asking, “Who’s that?” “What happened?” “What does this have to do with anything?”

But when Tris ends up getting taken by some people who want to study her divergence, I started to grow more interested in the story again. Also, I somehow ended up completely loving a super minor character who ends up dying a chapter or two after he is introduced, which I thought was quite an accomplishment since I still only kind of liked Tris and Four (Tris’ love interest) at this point. Then at the very end of the book, there is a twist in the story when we finally get an idea of why the society exists the way it does and why being Divergent is rare, and that made me much more interested reading book three when it comes and finishing the series than anything else that happened beforehand. So I am really hoping the final book will be a strong conclusion after the two first books that were good but not great (in my opinion anyway).

I do think Veronica Roth is a good writer (though I hate her now that I have learned that she is only 24! Ack! Stop being so talented and successful at 24!), but for some reason there has not been a big emotional connect between me and the books, and I also don’t find all the plot points interesting. I wish I could put my finger on why I feel this way; I hope I will have more insight when the series finishes and I find that the last book either finishes strong or falls flat.

Anyone else read Divergent or Insurgent? What’s your take on the series thus far?

Favorite quote of the series (so far): “Human beings as a whole cannot be good for long before the bad creeps back in and poisons us again.” (from Divergent)