‘Divergent,’ ‘Oculus’ Arrive on Home Video

Forrest Hartman


This week’s home video releases include a variety of genre films, including a post-apocalyptic fable based on a popular Veronica Roth novel.




3 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for intense violence and action, thematic elements and some sensuality
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand


With “Twilight,” “The Hunger Games” and other young-adult stories having success on the big screen, studios are keen to roll out similar fare, and novelist Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” was a perfect candidate for adaptation. Like “The Hunger Games,” the story is set in a post-apocalyptic future where citizens are trampled by a corrupt political system.


The plotting of the book and movie centers on Beatrice “Tris” Prior (Shailene Woodley), a teenager who must choose her place in society. In her world, it is customary for youth to be tested for various personality traits, then asked to devote themselves to one of five related factions. When Tris’ test indicates that she could fit into several of these groupings, she is warned to keep quiet. According to the tester, anyone who displays multiple traits is considered divergent and viewed as a threat to society.


The film addresses several fascinating themes, including authoritarianism and the importance of identity, and it also works as a straight-ahead romantic thriller. As Tris struggles to hide her identity from the government, she finds herself falling for another youngster (Theo James), and this gives viewers multiple characters to identify with.


Woodley is a fine actress who delivers a credible lead performance, and director Neil Burger (“Limitless,” “The Illusionist”) does a good job with pacing and tone even though the screenplay is sometimes underwritten and melodramatic.


The biggest problem with the film is an inadequate explanation of the faction system. This key element of the story was obviously developed so Burger could explore the identity crises that many teens experience, but he doesn’t adequately explain why power brokers want their society broken into neat divides.  Although this is a significant flaw, the movie’s many positives outweigh the problems, making “Divergent” a fine choice for anyone who enjoys the young-adult action genre.


Blu-ray and DVD extras include deleted scenes and two audio commentaries by the filmmakers.




2½  stars
Rated R for terror, violence, some disturbing images and brief language
20th Century Fox
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand


It’s an unwritten rule that the characters in bad horror movies make stupid decisions at every turn. Viewers are encouraged to ignore this phenomenon because …it’s been going on forever… and …they love to be scared.


Thing is, it’s more frightening to watch smart people fall victim to uncontrollable circumstances than to watch dumb people succumb to poor choices. Although filmmakers realize this, few have the talent and drive required to make truly inventive pictures. Because of this, audiences are bludgeoned with silly, cliché-ridden features like “Oculus.”


The movie centers on Kaylie Russell (Karen Gillan) and Tim Russell (Brenton Thwaites), siblings whose lives were destroyed when their father (Rory Cochrane) went insane and killed their mother (Katee Sackhoff). Terrified, Tim then killed his dad and got locked up for a decade.  


After a psychiatrist deems Tim mentally fit, he is released into the outside world where he hopes to settle in to a normal life. Kaylie, however, has other plans. Convinced that her father’s and mother’s deaths were caused by a mirror with supernatural powers, she seeks revenge.


Astute viewers will be frustrated from the start because Kaylie’s plan – although detailed – makes no sense. Still, the brother and sister march into a series of increasingly sinister happenings. As they struggle, they are also forced to relive the horrors of their childhood, and the audience learns exactly what happened.


Co-writer and director Mike Flanagan (“Absentia”) is reasonably good with atmosphere, and he succeeds in building a series of suspenseful scenes. Unfortunately, his good work is undermined by the absurdity of Kaylie’s and Tim’s decisions.  


The best horror movies work as cautionary tales or social commentary, and “Oculus” seems fascinated with the way human beings struggle to make peace with their own past. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t add anything novel to the conversation. Instead, it comes off as another dull horror film that’s more interested in cheap thrills than depth.  


The DVD release has no extras, but the Blu-ray contains a short film that inspired the movie, an audio commentary featuring Flanagan and a collection of deleted scenes. 



Need for Speed

½ star
Rated PG-13 for sequences of reckless street racing, disturbing crash scenes, nudity and crude language
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand


Like most movies inspired by video games, “Need for Speed” is a labored affair that relies on a patchwork script to move from one action sequence to the next. Viewers who love car crashes and sexy racecars may be OK with the simplicity, but those who demand multifaceted characters and credible plotting are likely to tune out after the first act.  


The action centers on Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul), a hotshot street racer who makes most of his money running an auto shop. Although a skilled driver, Tobey lives in the shadow of his high school rival, Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper). After Dino’s reckless racing leads to the death of one of Tobey’s friends, Tobey seeks revenge by facing him in an illegal, high-stakes street race.


Although viewers are clearly supposed to root for Tobey, it’s difficult because Paul and director Scott Waugh (“Act of Valor”) paint him as selfish and vain. Despite losing one of his best friends in an illegal race, Tobey thinks nothing of endangering the lives of bystanders each time he gets behind the wheel. Still, viewers are supposed to cheer for Tobey and hate Dino, the movie’s equally one-dimensional villain.


The supporting characters, played by actors including Imogen Poots, Scott Mescudi, Rami Malek, Ramon Rodriguez, Dakota Johnson and Harrison Gilbertson, have even less depth than the major players. Adding to the problems is a plot that’s less convincing than anything from the “Fast & the Furious” franchise, and storytelling was never a strong suit in those movies.


As bad as the plot is, car fans should enjoy watching the film’s high-end autos zip across the screen. “Need for Speed” features a variety of beautiful machines, including a Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, a Ford Shelby Mustang, several Koenigsegg Agera’s and a Lamborghini Sesto Elemento. Waugh does a reasonably good job with the race sequences, and the movie features a number of impressive stunts. There is nothing, however, compelling enough to merit a viewing of the entire 132-minute film.


Blu-ray and DVD extras include a making-of short and a trailer for the “Need for Speed: Rivals” video game. 





“Californication” – The Final Season: Final episodes of the popular Showtime dramedy about a novelist (David Duchovny) struggling with everything form writer’s block to drug abuse. 


“God’s Not Dead”: Religious drama about an atheist college professor (Kevin Sorbo) whose belief system is challenged by a devout Christian student (Shane Harper).  Dean Cain also stars. Directed by Harold Cronk.


“Ja’mie: Private School Girl”: All six episodes of the Chris Lilley-created TV series about a mean-spirited teen who rules her exclusive Australian school. The show, which aired on HBO in the U.S., is presented mockumentary style, and Lilley plays the title character.


“Tarzan”: Computer-animated reimagining of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ story about a boy who was raised by apes. The voice cast includes Kellan Lutz and Spencer Locke. Co-written and directed by Rienhard Klooss.


“The Trip to Bountiful”: Lifetime movie about an elderly woman (Cicely Tyson) whose overprotective son (Blair Underwood) forbids her from traveling. Nevertheless, she sneaks out of the house with plans to revisit her hometown. Vanessa Williams, Clancy Brown and Keke Palmer also star. Directed by Michael Wilson.



“Community” – Season 5: This comedy, about students attending a Colorado community college, ended its major-network run with the 13 episodes in this set. The show will be back, however, as Yahoo Screen ordered a 13-episode season to be distributed on its streaming-video service.  


Perry Mason Movie Collection – Volume 3: Six TV movies – all released in the early 1990s – about the exploits of defense attorney Perry Mason (Raymond Burr). Included are: “The Case of the Poisoned Pen,” “The Case of the Desperate Deception,” “The Case of the Silenced Singer,” “The Case of the Defiant Daughter,” “The Case of the Ruthless Reporter” and “The Case of the Maligned Mobster.”


“Transformers – Cybertron” – The Complete Series: All 52 episodes of the Japanese animated series that chronicles the ongoing adventures of Optimus Prime and other powerful, transforming robots.  



Author Bio:


Forrest Hartman, a Highbrow Magazine contributor, is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. For more of his work visit www.ForrestHartman.com..

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