Goofy ‘Gunman,’ Chilling ‘Follows,’ Searing ‘’71’

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By FS

Contributing Writer

From left, Theo James as Four, Miles Teller as Peter, and Shailene Woodley as Tris in “Insurgent.” - Photo courtesy of bookfandoms.com
From left, Theo James as Four, Miles Teller as Peter, and Shailene Woodley as Tris in “Insurgent.”
– Photo courtesy of bookfandoms.com

“Insurgent”

The second installment in what’s now called “The Divergent Series” is better than the first.  But that doesn’t mean that “Insurgent” (wide release) is particularly good.

The movie resumes where its predecessor left off, with the misfits led by Tris (Shailene Woodley) on the run from evil Jeanine (Kate Winslet), who’s taken over the ruins of Chicago that have been walled in following some sort of apocalyptic catastrophe.

What follows is mostly a series of chases and fights, though toward the close Jeanine’s attempt to use Tris to open a mystical box containing messages from the city’s founders necessitates some big special effects sequences.

“Insurgent” benefits from not having to explain the silly rules of this YA dystopia as “Divergent” did, opting for pure action instead.  But once the purposes of the founders are revealed in the end — pointing the way to two more promised installments — the inanity of the concept becomes all the more apparent.

Still, if one can set aside the essential foolishness of the plot, the movie is a workmanlike futuristic yarn, and it does push the story along effectively.

“The Gunman”

Sean Penn goes the Liam Neeson route in “The Gunman” (wide release), transforming himself into an aging action star for a picture directed by the same fellow who made “Taken.”

Befitting Penn’s political leanings, the movie also tries to make a statement about how resources  in developing countries are being stolen by greedy international corporations.

But the script — about an erstwhile assassin who finds himself in the crosshairs of some shadowy menace because of a killing he carried out in Africa years earlier — is just an excuse for a series of shootouts, explosions and martial arts battles that grow increasingly ludicrous until they culminate in a completely absurd showdown at a Barcelona bullfight.

The picture also features a supporting turn by Javier Bardem so awful it could be grounds for the revocation of his Oscar.

“It Follows”

You have to credit the modestly-budgeted “It Follows” (Angelika) for offering some genuinely creepy moments while dusting off the plots of such horror classics as “Halloween” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”

The story, about a curse involving a threatening shape-shifter that can be diverted from one potential victim to another by means of a simple act of intimacy, is just a variant of the old slasher movie formula of the ‘70s and ‘80s, in which promiscuity insured one’s becoming a target.

But though the acting is weak, director David Robert Mitchell creates a real sense of unease and manages a few effective scares as the lumbering entity, visible only to its current quarry, makes its appearance in different forms.

“It Follows” also benefits from eschewing the gore favored by most horror movies nowadays in favor of an unsettling atmosphere.  This makes it a throwback in approach as well as narrative.

“‘71”

The so-called Troubles in Northern Ireland are the basis for “’71” (Magnolia), a terrific action movie, set in 1971, about a British soldier who gets trapped in the Catholic-controlled section of Belfast and must try to survive the night until his comrades can find and rescue him.

The wounded man is pursued by Catholic paramilitary fighters intent on killing him, and doesn’t get much help from the Protestant militants he stumbles upon.

Up-and-coming star Jack O’Connell makes a strong impression as the desperate man on the run; the script cannily uses the divisions within both the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the British security forces to make his plight even more nerve-wracking; and Yann Demange’s direction, abetted by excellent cinematography and editing, ratchets up the tension skillfully.

The result is a worthy companion piece to Carol Reed’s 1947 masterpiece “Odd Man Out,” which focused on a wounded IRA leader trying to evade authorities in Belfast.  That is high praise.

“Wild Tales”

Revenge is the unifying motif in the Argentine anthology film “Wild Tales” (Angelika), which features six short episodes in which various characters take aim at those who have wronged them, or try to escape retribution.

All of the tales — one about a waitress who has to serve the man who was responsible for her father’s death; a second about a very bad case of road rage; a third focusing on a man’s vendetta against a car-towing service; a fourth about a hit-and-run; a fifth about a wedding reception that turns nasty with recriminations — have their moments.

But only the first (and shortest) of them — about an airliner filled with passengers who gradually realize that they have something in common — really hits the mark, being both surprising and very funny. If the quality is not consistent, however, the average in “Wild Tales” is pretty high.

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