The Divergent Series: Allegiant races along with twist and counter-twist
Women characters anchor three of the four movies this week. Relax - Hollywood hasn't fallen to a feminist cabal, it's just resting before unleashing the testosterone tide of summer, when every movie will star a man with a gun, or wearing spandex, or both.
This week's top pick features plenty of guns that go blrrrrrp!, but women who pull the triggers.
In the action-thriller The Divergent Series: Allegiant (PG13, 121 minutes, opens tomorrow, 3.5/5 stars), Tris (Shailene Woodley) and friends are outside the wall, where a new set of problems await.
This instalment is the third in the series and the first of a two-part finale. Penultimate films in the young adult genre are like the bikini armour worn by women in video games - insultingly skimpy, reflecting the producer's low opinion of fan intelligence.
But instead of Tris, Four (Theo James), Christine (Zoe Kravitz) and Peter (Miles Teller) moping or talking about their feelings while preparing for the showdown to come in the fourth and concluding movie, the story here races along, with twist and counter-twist.
Director Robert Schwentke, who also helmed the last chapter, Insurgent (2015), makes the gunfights short and punchy, while Woodley does well keeping Tris relatable as a woman who comes of age as a messianic hero, while continuing to deepen her relationship with Four.
German-born Schwentke shows a steady hand with the classic young adult trio of elements, namely self-discovery, romance and action, helped by how organic to the story the fight scenes are. His work here is much better than in a previous outing, the terrible action-comedy R.I.P.D. (2013).
Teller (Fantastic Four, 2015; Whiplash, 2014), as the morally wavering Peter, lifts every scene in which he appears, mainly because he seems to be the only character capable of showing something other than grim intensity.
Cate Blanchett shows plenty of grimness in Truth (M18, 126 minutes, opens tomorrow, 2.5/5 stars). In 2004, CBS news producer Mary Mapes (Blanchett) aired a segment, led by news anchor Dan Rather (Robert Redford), that showed how, when then President George W. Bush was a pilot in the Texas Air National Guard, his family pulled strings to keep him out of serving in Vietnam.
The movie is based on Mapes'book covering the event, one that did not end well for her and Rather.
Comparisons between this movie and Spotlight (2015), which won the Oscar for Best Picture, are inevitable as both centre on journalists uncovering a major story. But they could not be more different in quality and the differences have more to do with how Hollywood works than about storytelling.
Spotlight was an ensemble piece. This film is centred on Mapes, with Rather as a supporting character. Blanchett can play many parts, but her patrician air does not make her believable as a down-in-the- trenches journalist.
The story is admirably even-handed in showing how Mapes and Rather could have erred in judgment, but it tries to have its cake and eat it by showing them winning the moral battle, even as they lose the fight on the front for truth. Ironic, given the film's title.
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are funny people with beautiful chemistry as awards show hosts and television characters. Why is it that they cannot make a consistently funny movie together?
Sisters (NC16, 118 minutes, opens tomorrow, 2.5/5 stars) brings them back as feature headliners, some years after the uneven Baby Mama (2008).
Maura (Poehler) and Kate (Fey) are siblings. Maura suffers from a good Samaritan complex, while Kate is an irresponsible single mother. When their parents (Dianne Wiest and James Brolin) sell the family home in Florida, the sisters return home with plans to throw a massive blowout to send off the house.
The odd-couple set-up offers a hint as to how contrived and old-fashioned this comedy feels, and it gets worse. There is a deliberate looseness here, in how the movie is strung together from "bits" featuring the women riffing with each other or veteran comedians and Saturday Night Live pals such as Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch and Bobby Moynihan.
Only one or two of these bits work, made worse by the large and forgettable crew of partygoers.
Fey and Poehler want to show that women can behave as badly as men, but in a way that never compromises their essential niceness. It's possible to have both, but in this movie, it feels too much like pulled punches.
Triple 9 (M18, 115 minutes, opens tomorrow, 3/5 stars) is a flawed but interesting take on the heist movie, helmed by a director known for paring everything down to minimalist essentials.
A gang of robbers, headed by Michael (Chiwetel Ejiofor), are forced to make one more raid at the behest of the Russian mafia, led by dowager Irina (Kate Winslet). To give themselves a cop-free window of time, they decide to execute a "triple 9", code for an officer casualty, as a diversion.
Australian director John Hillcoat favours movies about hard men slogging away at difficult jobs (Lawless, 2012; The Road, 2009; The Proposition, 2005), so this is right up his alley. It's the most plot-driven one he's done, but he dishes out the twists coherently and with style.
The problems occur first with casting. Winslet is clearly having fun as the ice queen Irina, but in a movie coated in street grittiness, her Bond-villainess vibe sticks out and not in a good way. Irina might as well be stroking a cat on her lap when she give orders.
Also, the story asks that you believe that police divisions act like schoolyard mobs, rushing over pell-mell when one of their own is down, or that a few of their own could moonlight as bank robbers.
For all its structural problems, there is enough style here to warrant a pass, once you get past Winslet's impressions of a Tzarina gone bad.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 16, 2016, with the headline 'Women pulling the triggers'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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