On DVD & Blu-Ray: August 5, 2014


If Divergent is anything it is competent. Everything about it screams ambition; what it wants to be and the actual product itself shows it has the ability and the right amount of reverence for the source material to be successful in conveying the spirit of Veronica Roth's novel to the screen. The drawback is that while it is indeed capable and is able to make a suitable enough film for fans of the novel to more or less enjoy and pick apart, nothing about the execution of bringing this story to life screams exceptional or even, for lack of a better term in this case, divergent. I finished the first book in Roth's trilogy a few months back and have since moved on to the next one, but while I was suspicious of this new dystopian franchise with a young female heroine for the lead I was eventually able to look past the similarities between it and The Hunger Games and at least understand the merit people were finding in these stories. It might be too much (or too early for me as I'm in the middle of Insurgent) to say that Roth's series is the better written of the two from a creative standpoint, but it is already clear that Suzanne Collins series lends itself well to the cinematic world even if people were weary of it at first given the titular event included the slaughtering of children. I, personally, thought Divergent would be the easier story to tell onscreen, but it becomes obvious within the first hour or so that this may not be so as things and events begin to collapse in on themselves and it is only with the promise of another chapter and the idea that these plot strands with less attention paid to them this time around may rise to become more relevant in the future. It is an odd feeling because as the film unfolded and I was referencing the book in my head wondering when or if they would include certain scenes it became apparent the writers and the filmmakers weren't quite sure how to structure things. The film plays out well enough and we understand the point of why everything is happening, but we don't necessarily feel the tension or the growing fear that should be mounting in our protagonist until it is too late and we feel the film has gone on for too long without ever feeling whole. Full review here. C+

The first trailer for stuntman turned director Scott Waugh's sophomore effort, Need for Speed, hinted at something more than your typical video game movie; it was orchestral and well put-together with pedigree and something slightly haunting, solemn and meditated about its approach to the unexplainable infatuation people can have not just with cars, but with danger. What the final film actually feels like though is a slick pop confection with good intentions, don't get me wrong, but whose lyrics are nothing but vapid and a chorus that is completely forgettable. I don't play video games at all and despite the fact the Need for Speed gaming franchise is one of the most successful of all time I can't help but feel like this flick missed the bandwagon and is coming around at least ten years too late. This would have been another fine-enough companion piece to the phase that gave us Torque, Biker Boyz, Stallone's Driven and of course the original Fast and Furious title. Still, even the F&F movies aren't really about street racing anymore and even if they were the only incarnation of that series this seems to have taken any note from would be the fourth with its dry plot points and inability to build the right kind of tension or drama. Waugh has a good eye, his shots are nicely put together and if nothing else the film looks spectacular, but even with this kind of compliment comes the stipulation a film about ex-cons, street racers and cross-country road trips that include outrunning the police at every turn shouldn't look as "nice" as the film makes them out to be and certainly not as clean as these guys are able to maintain. It simply all feels a bit forced, a bit strained and the audience can sense that. There is a line in the film where Imogen Poots character, Julia, says to Aaron Paul's Tobey Marshall that she understands that driving fast is necessary, but driving like a maniac is not and especially with the intention Paul's character has in mind. I only wish first-time screenwriter George Gatins would have followed some of his own advice and allowed the fast driving to guide the script rather than indulging in the presumed wants of the audience and delivering action for its own sake rather than allowing it to drive the narrative. Full review here. D+

The word oculus is defined as a round or eyelike opening or design and in the case of this new horror film is in reference to a mirror that acts as a curse to all those who own it. This is essentially The Amityville Horror or any number of possession tales where an object elicits evil qualities over those in its presence and makes them do horrible things. The fact the object this scary movie decided to revolve around was a mirror, a simple household amenity where the most frightening thing that typically comes along with it is the superstition that if you break it you get seven years of bad luck, but hey, people are hard pressed for original ideas these days and so its hard to knock anyone for at least trying. This seems especially true when it comes to the horror genre as by this point in time we've pretty much seen every trick in the book played out time and time again. Oculus isn't necessarily about the specifics of the story it's telling nor is it even about the scares as I wouldn't say I found myself frightened at all throughout the entire film. Instead, writer/director Mike Flanagan, along with co-writer Jeff Howard, have placed the emphasis on how the story is told and playing with the conventions of structure and pre-determined expectation to give the audience a strange disconnection to the material that allows us to continually be interested in what is happening, while never really knowing what to expect or what to brace ourselves for. While there was positive buzz around the film and despite the fact I'd heard little about it in regards to promotional campaigns the tone the posters displayed was one of pure mystery, pure creepiness. If there is one word to sum up Oculus it is indeed that, creepy. It never reaches the heights of being flat-out scary and it is far too precise to be chopped together for a few jump scares and little more substance than that, but while it may not prove to be a great horror film it lends itself well to demonstrating what can be done with a pure genre film when even the slightest of envelopes is pushed. For that, Flanagan may not be showered with praise, but in the eyes of this movie fan and someone increasingly hard to please when it comes to this specific genre I found Oculus intriguing and well-executed in a manner that allowed me to forgive its lack of real scares and not take for granted the genuine chills it delivered in its final moments. Full review here. C

Also Available Today: