Tag Archives: adolescent literature movies

Terrible Thing to Waste

The Darkest Minds

by Hope Madden

Let me not be misleading. I did not want to see this movie.

Not just because The Darkest Minds is yet another cinematic adaptation of a dystopian young adult novel.

No, wait. That is why. And if you think you already know every moment of this film, you are correct. The Darkest Minds = X-Men + Divergent + The Girl with All the Gifts. (Haven’t seen that last one? You should!)

Ruby (Amandla Stenberg) is one of the very few children in America who have survived a virus, but survivors have been left with super powers. Deemed threats by the US government, they are rounded up, placed in internment camps and quarantined.

That right. Within moments of “fade in,” the president of the United States is ordering that children be caged. I swear to God. The dystopian future is now.

But the horrifying reality of our day-to-day world is not novelist Alexandra Bracken’s point, nor is it the point of screenwriter Chad Hodge or director Jennifer Yuh Nelson (Kung Fu Panda 2 & 3). No, their point, as is required by their genre, is that our protagonist is so very special. So very special. She just doesn’t know it.

It’s also about evolution. It’s basically the youth of the world recognizing that they are the future and wondering why the hell they should wait to take over, seeing as how the adults are screwing things up to such a degree that we all may be dead before the youngsters can straighten things up.

That checks out.

To be perfectly honest, The Darkest Minds is nowhere near as awful as the trailer made it out to be. Yes, it is predictable to a fault, but the performances aren’t terrible. There are also shades of moral ambiguity here that are uncommon in this type of film.

Stenberg is a veteran of YA cinema—she’s Katniss’s beloved Rue from the original The Hunger Games, for God’s sake. That’s like ‘tween royalty. She’s exactly as awkward, angsty and unaware as she needs to be to become the vehicle for the “she’s so special” storyline. She’s surrounded by a capable cast of children and veterans that keep the story engaging and moving.

The action is adequate at best, the villain obvious and bland, and the climax will leave most people a bit underwhelmed.

And yet, I think these mutant kids may be right. They’ve convinced me. It’s time we just hand them the keys. They couldn’t do any worse, right?

Same as the Old Boss

The Divergent Series: Allegiant

by Hope Madden

For anyone waiting with bated breath for the conclusion of Tris Pryor’s heroic quest through the Divergent series, expect to be disappointed by The Divergent Series: Allegiant. The final book in the series has been split into two films – a choice we should, by this time, expect from a cash cow-ready industry.

For anyone hoping for a bit of entertainment regardless of the split, you should also expect to be disappointed. Director Robert Schwentke’s slick but soulless third act can’t overcome the dull pacing, superficial scripting, or one dimensional characters that have plagued the series since its inception.

Tris (Shailene Woodlely) broke from the factions that kept her society separated, then toppled the dictatorship that sought to oppress her people. Now she sees the same mistakes being made, but she believes there is something more beyond the wall around the city. She and her rag tag group of friends will find what’s out there – but what if it’s just more of the same?

Unfortunately for Tris and for all of us, that is exactly what the film offers. More and more and more of the exact same – all of it handled with far more energy and integrity in the Hunger Games series.

Woodley is a genuine talent, but she doesn’t seem to have the energy to even try, and who can blame her? She’s wasted in one more film where she does little more then look ponderous, then look thoughtful, now fierce but vulnerable.

Miles Teller – another actual talent – also returns as the woefully underused opportunist, and though his dialog is just as flat and obvious as everyone else’s, he does offer the only bright spots in an otherwise endless expanse of blandness.

Schwentke’s visual style offers slapped together images from Seventies SciFi, while his direction goes the extra mile when it comes to telegraphing every line, move, or event in the film. The final product is a by-the-numbers adolescent adventure lacking all energy and imagination.

And there’s still one more to get through.





Three’s a Crowd

Z for Zachariah

by Hope Madden

If you are unfamiliar with Craig Zobel, google him immediately. Hopefully you’ll discover Homestar Runner, which will clue you into Zobel’s particular mad genius. Go ahead and spend some time. Take in the glory that is Teen Girl Squad. Then prepare yourself for an amazingly different experience and watch the filmmaker’s third feature, Z for Zachariah.

Based loosely on Robert O’Brien’s award winning adolescent novel, the film is a meticulous examination of human behavior masquerading as a SciFi flick. Sometime after an undisclosed apocalypse (radioactivity suggests a nuclear war), Ann Burden (Margot Robbie) tends her farm alone, her valley somehow spared of the radiation. She believes she may be the last living soul until scientist John Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor) appears in the distance in his radiation suit.

What evolves is a fascinating character study blessed with two excellent performances.

Ejiofor is incapable of a weak turn, and as is always the case, he manages to wear the character’s entire backstory in his countenance, posture, wordless reactions, and eyes. He’s almost capable of presenting a fully realized character without a word of dialog, and his Loomis is a mysterious, weary guest whose undisclosed, recent experiences have made him a little distant, even as Ann has to contain her joy at finding a companion.

Robbie has never been better in a role that is sometimes almost aggravatingly naïve, and yet this is a character with the grit to survive on her own, to plow a field – to create the film’s Eden.

Nissar Modi’s screenplay sometimes treads too heavily with the biblical metaphors, but Zobel never does. While the film explores ideas of science versus religion, male versus female, intellect versus emotion, white versus black, Zobel’s real interest – as he showed with brilliantly frustrating results in his previous effort, Compliance – is to examine human foibles, resilience, and self-destructive tendencies.

Z examines the nervous but sweet blossoming of a relationship, then upends the comforting narrative with the arrival of a third survivor – handsome Caleb (Chris Pine).

Pine’s third wheel is a less developed character, but the actor manages to convey the right amount of manipulative aw-shucks and just the hint of menace the film needs to generate tension.

The film’s minimalism is both welcome and problematic, as it seems to work against much of the built-in tensions and drama that could enliven the running time.

Fans of the novel will be irritated by the many liberties taken, but Zobel’s film stands firmly on its own. Told with realism and simplicity, and boasting an intriguing amount of ambiguity – especially at the climax – Z abandons the traditions of the post-apocalyptic film in favor of something modest and moving.