Chuck Koplinski: 'Insurgent' ups original's ante and succeeds

Chuck Koplinski: 'Insurgent' ups original's ante and succeeds

Smart, slick and superior to its predecessor "Divergent," "Insurgent" does what every good adventure tale must, namely give us characters we care for as the whole world goes to hell around them.

This is something often forgotten by directors who are only in pursuit of making things blow up real good. Thankfully, Robert Schwentke ain't that guy. While he has a good eye for choreographing elaborate action sequences, of which there are three here, he's not so blind as to overlook the relationship that develops between the film's two attractive leads or the movie's dire warning about the loss of individuality in the face of a paranoid government, a theme that grows much darker this time around.

The sequel picks up a mere five days after the end of "Divergent" as Tris (Shailene Woodley), her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort), her boyfriend Four (Theo James) and the duplicitous Peter (Miles Teller) are hiding out in the Amity farming community, waiting for things to die down. Seems their impromptu uprising against the government didn't sit to well with the powers that be, especially Jeanine (Kate Winslet), who was left wounded and humiliated.

However, there's far more driving her to bring Tris and the others in as her troops have recovered a mysterious box that, once open, will reveal a message from the founding fathers that she thinks will solidify the government's grip on society. Unfortunately, only someone who is Divergent can crack the code. No fair guessing who holds the key

With a healthier budget, Schwentke is able to deliver a film that looks better than "Divergent." Clear and crisp where the previous entry was overcast and murky, this lends a more energetic feel to the movie, something that's heightened by the young cast.

Woodley continues to prove she's a force to be reckoned with, bringing a convincing sense of sass and athleticism to the role that goes a long way toward making Tris a heroine to root for. She's complemented nicely by James, who gets to spread his wings here a bit, showing a more vulnerable side this time around, much less dark and brooding. The sparks that fly between these two are genuine, and 's one thing the "Divergent" films have over the "Hunger Games" movies is they provide a strong female AND male lead.

Credit Schwentke for the film's crisp pace as he positions three well-done set pieces in such a way to avoid action fatigue yet keep the tension high. Equally impressive is the script itself, which provides a nightmare vision of mental intrusion and physical trespass that's unnerving.

Whereas "Divergent" had the feel of a throwaway entertainment, "Insurgent" succeeds for the most part in being a serious screed against a government that would intrude upon and abuse its citizens for its own gain. It's a welcome and sobering turn that makes for a far more meaningful and memorable movie.

'Insurgent'

★★★1/2 (out of 4)

Cast: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Kate Winslet, Naomi Watts, Mekhi Phifer, Jai Courtney, Octavia Spencer, Zoe Kravitz, Ray Stevenson, Daniel Dae Kim, Maggie Q, Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn.

Directed by Robert Schwentke; produced by Lucy Fisher, Pouya Shahbazian and Douglas Wick; screenplay by Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman and Mark Bomback, based on the novel by Veronica Roth.

A Summit Entertainment release. 119 minutes. Rated PG-13 (intense violence and action, some sensuality, thematic elements and brief language). At AMC Village Mall 6, Carmike 13, Harvest Moon Drive-In and Savoy 16 IMAX.

Also new in theaters

Savage humor, bitter irony at 'Wild Tales' core (★★★1/2). The opening credits of Damian Szifron's "Wild Tales" provide the first indication that a degree of savagery will be at play in the film.

Alternating between pictures of predators and their prey, this bit of foreshadowing lets us in on the fact that many of the characters featured will be at the mercy of their own animalistic nature once everything is said and done.

Nominated for the Academy Award for best foreign language film, this Argentine import contains six short stories, all of which hinge on fantastic coincidences and are suffused with bitter irony.

The first story concerns an airplane pilot who really knows how to bear a grudge and the unfortunate passengers who cross his path; the second involves a young waitress who unexpectedly finds herself serving a man who did her family great harm many years ago; the next focuses on a case of road rage that gets way, way out of hand; the fourth revolves around a demolitions expert who reaches his breaking point where civic corruption is concerned; the fifth tells the tale of a hit-and-run accident and the ripple effect it has on three families involved; while the final story redefines the notion that "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" when a bride discovers, on her wedding day, that her husband has been unfaithful to her.

As with any omnibus movie of this sort, some of the stories come off better than others. However, "Wild Tales" bucks the odds as five of its entries are solidly told all the way through with only the final story concerning the wedding being a bit pedestrian. Szifron, who also wrote the script, masterfully sets up each section, wasting little time throwing the viewer into the world of each protagonist, having fate throw them a curveball soon after it begins. The irony involved in each is a deliciously buoying current of black humor that runs throughout the film.

The comedic moments will not be to everyone's taste, as most revolve around gruesome circumstances. Yet, at their core, they speak to our frailties as human beings. Who among us hasn't been laid low by our own rage, jealousy, pettiness or sense of self-preservation? Our flaws are at the core of the glue that binds us, as does a latent savagery that's connected to our need to protect ourselves.

"Wild Tales" reminds us of these failings in a viscously humorous way that will have you laughing and shaking your head, as the behaviors on display are all too common, cutting close to the bone in each of us.

Humor, horror lurk in "Shadows" (★★★1/2). Have you ever wondered how modern vampires would live, especially if they had to share an apartment?

Neither have I, but I'm glad Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi did as their new film "What We Do in the Shadows," follows the trials and tribulations of four members of the undead trying to acclimate to the modern world while sharing living quarters.

This is an interesting premise, made more so as it's done in a mock documentary format, allowing the main characters to repeatedly break the fourth wall to express their concerns about roommates who won't clean up their bloody dishes or put down towels in the living room before they bleed a victim dry.

At 379 years old, Viago (Waititi) has seen a lot, but being approached by the New Zealand Documentary Board in order to chronicle his and his colleagues' night-to-night lives before the upcoming Unholy Masquerade is a first. A small film crew, all wearing crucifixes and operating under the promise they won't be attacked, are given unprecedented access to this undead quartet. They don't see much of the 8,000-year-old Petyr (Ben Fransham), who lives in the basement, but they get their fill of Viago, who is far too fastidious for his roommates, the 862-year-old Vladislav (Clement), whose fearsome reputation may not be all he has made it out to be, and Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), a relative child at 183 years old who is still stuck in his vampiric adolescent stage.

What follows is a litany of complaints and woes from the vampires, all delivered in an arch, amusing manner. Running a taut 86 minutes, Clement and Waititi keep the jokes coming at a brisk pace. The quartet have a hard time living a healthy nightlife, as they can't get into any bars because they must be invited in, something bouncers are clueless to, while their disparate personalities clash at every turn. Equally amusing are their continued run-ins with a pack of werewolves, as well as the numerous mistakes by Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), a new member of their clan who is far too cavalier about their way of life.

You know the film is working when even the casual, throwaway jokes are funny (when one of the vamps is burnt to a crisp, it's referred to as a "fatal sunlight accident"), but there's a bit of poignancy at place that's effective as well.

Vlad and the rest gather around a computer screen to watch short films of sunrises, while Viago pines for a lost love for more than 60 years, hovering outside her window each night.

Sure, "What We Do in the Shadows" is a laugh riot, but by humanizing its characters, it proves to provide a bit of life to those we've seen as nothing but dead.

For DVR alerts, film recommendations and movie news, follow Chuck Koplinski on Twitter at @ckoplinski. Koplinski can be reached via email at chuckkoplinski@gmail.com.

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