Ah the school year has begun again!  Time for books and classes and studying and yes, even movies.  Seriously, I don’t know if I could make it through a full semester if I didn’t have movies to help give my mind a little mini-vacation from time to time.  A cougar can only stuff so much knowledge into his brain before he needs a break.

And what better way to take a break from studying than with a good, cheesy action film, right?  Well, you guys are in luck because we have two this month!

Divergent (2014) [Rated PG-13]

Poster for Divergent (2014)Let’s start with the controversial review first, shall we?

Right off the bat, I want to say I haven’t read the books.  I went into this totally blind.  All I knew was that Divergent is about a dystopian society where people are divided into one of five factions that they stay in for their entire lives.  There is a small subsection of people that are able to fit into multiple factions and they are known as Divergent.  Some of the people in the factions want to kill Divergent folks.  That’s all I knew.

The movie is all right to look at.  It’s not going to win in cinematography awards but it’s clear that they put some time, money and effort into producing the film.  We’ll ignore the fact that this is yet another movie in the “I’m an outcast teen and I’m fighting the system” genre that is popular right now.  The plot of the movie and how it was told leads me to believe there is probably an interesting story in the book but this movie felt so long!  It’s only a little over two hours but I felt like I was watching Divergent for days.  It felt like test after test, moody glance after moody glance … it just went on and on.

But I even could have forgiven that.  What bothered me most was the main character, Beatrice.  Don’t get me wrong.  Shailene Woodley did a fine job with the script.  No, what really got to me was …. why is it in most action films, the woman (even when she is the star of the film) needs some hunky guy to save her?  That’s one thing I really liked about The Hunger Games movies.  Tough-as-nails Katniss carries the burden of saving herself and others with quiet dignity.  In Divergent, our hero Beatrice (or Tris as she calls herself later) has trouble in the training process to join her faction.  But after she meets a hot guy, he’s all the inspiration she needs to turn her life around and succeed.  *Blech*

What particularly baffles me about that plot choice is there are tons of strong female characters in the movie.  Kate Winslet plays Jeanine, the head of the smart people faction, and does a tremendous job of setting up the conflict that takes up the last quarter of the film.  All without the wayward glances of a hunky dude.  Maggie Q plays Tori Wu, the tough faction tester and tattoo artist (yeah, I know) who teaches Beatrice to keep her Divergent status a secret if she wants to survive.  Or Ashley Judd who plays Beatrice’s mother, Natalie, whose quiet exterior hides a fierceness that comes out later.  All these women are strong, fully self-sufficient women.  So why can’t the heroine be as well?

I’ve never been a teenage girl.  I wouldn’t have a clue what it is like to grow up as one.  But I suspect that, if I were a teenage girl, I would get tired of that tell me the only way I can be a hero is with the help of a man.  Surely there is a market for action movies about strong, independent women.  Hanna from 2011 was the first example that came to my mind but surely there are more.

At any rate, if they had just taken out the patronizing love story, I think I would have enjoyed the movie much more.

5 paws out of 10

Sharknado 2: The Second One (2014) [TV-14]

Sharknado 2 PosterAnd now to lighten the mood a little bit.  Look, we’re going to make this short and sweet.  I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t enjoy the first Sharknado.  It was a lot of fun.  A terrible movie but a lot of fun.  So I went into Sharknado 2 expecting more of the same.  Unfortunately, the makers of the movie went into it the same way.

Sharknado 2 is a wonderful example of the law of diminishing returns.  Wikipedia says , “The law of diminishing returns states that in all productive processes, adding more of one factor of production, while holding all others constant (‘ceteris paribus‘), will at some point yield lower incremental per-unit returns.”  In the case of Sharknado 2, I would argue that the producers of the movie added more of what they thought made the movie fun in the first place but by doing so only led to an inferior movie.

Yeah, I get it.  It’s supposed to be bad.  But there is a fine line between “so bad that it’s good” and “just bad.”  This was just bad.

The moment that finally did it for me was a long scene where a group of guys head to a hotel in downtown New York and the streets have flooded to the point that they have to make a rope swing to get from their car to the hotel entrance without being eaten by sharks.  One of the group doesn’t make it.  It’s dangerous folks.  There’s sharks out in front of the hotel!  That is, of course, until a few minutes later in the movie when a group of women literally walk into the entrance of the hotel where there are no sharks and no water on the ground.  Continuity, man!  You can make a cheesy movie that’s still good but it has to respect continuity.  Apparently the makers of Sharknado 2 are more interested in cashing checks than making an entertaining movie.

2 paws out of 10

Seriously though, folks, I really am interested to know if you know of any action or superhero movies that have women in the lead role.  Surely Hollywood has figured out there is money to be made that way.  I have only thought of Hanna, the Alien series, The Hunger Games movies, and Haywire.  There’s a whole world that I’m worried that I am missing now and I don’t want to be.  Help a cougar out!

As always, if you have a movie you think I should check out or you want to talk further about one of these reviews, drop me a line at collincougar@collin.edu or leave me a message on Facebook.