On the Run Pt 3 (The Death Cure, 2018)

Maze_Runner_Death_Cure_PosterIn an attempt to save Minho from WCKD, the film opens with a train heist.  We discover that WCKD has been searching for a Cure for the Flare, and this was the purpose of the Maze. In the minds of Ava Paige and her scientists, they are doing noble work, and if they must sacrifice some kids to save more people, it is worth that cost. The heist saves several kids, but not Minho.

When Thomas, Jorge, Brenda, Newt and Frypan decide to go on a secret mission to break Minho out of WCKD headquarters, they find that WCKD is actually at the center of a massive walled city. With help from an old ally they make their way into the city and WCKD headquarters.

The Death Cure got delayed due to a pretty bad accident involving star Dylan O’Brien during filming. But the end result is a pretty exciting film.  It is practically one long prison break type of film, with the heroes trying to save their friend and end WCKD.

Game of Throne’s Aidan Gillen (introduced in the Scorch Trials) makes a good heavy whose motives are not at all altruistic. Walton Goggins has brief but memorable role as a rebel leader dreaming of taking down the city. A couple characters get nice redemptive arcs and a few meet tragic ends.

The action is pretty non-stop and makes for an exciting close to the story (thanks to the producers for not splitting the last book into a two parter).

I enjoyed this series quite a bit, and I think it was well served by having the same director and screenwriters for all three films. Considering that other than the Maze Runner films, Director Wes Ball has only directed a few short films. He shows himself pretty prepared for big action.

On the Run Pt 2 (The Scorch Trials, 2015)

Maze_Runner_Scorch_PosterAfter escaping the Maze, Thomas and his group of Gladers find themselves trying to escape the clutches of WCKD. They rush headlong into the Scorch…the world outside burned by the sun and filled with disease.

They come into contact with a group of freedom fighters who want to help get the uninfected kids to a safe zone and far away from WCKD. But they find that not all the Gladers can be trusted.

The Scorch Trials changes up their monsters.  The Infection (called the Flare) turns people into zombie like creatures that mindlessly attack and destroy anyone in their path.  The film builds a dramatic chase in which Thomas and freedom fighter Brenda try and escape these monsters. There is a great reveal in sewers and an exciting chase through a broken down skyscraper.

I really liked the new characters.  Brenda and Jorge seem sketchy at first, seemingly just out for themselves, but prove themselves trustworthy. Alan Tudyk has a brief but memorable role as a rather scummy informant Jorge deals with.

The film ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, but also a note of hope.  The Scorch Trials is a good second act for the Maze Runner series.  It is exciting and has interesting characters.

On the Run Pt 1 (The Maze Runner, 2014)

Maze_Runner_PosterWelcome to a dystopian future where Katniss is chosen to be part of a competition to the…oh wait…sorry, welcome to a Dystopian future where society has been restructured into five groups based on certain ski-wait, wait…that was something else…

So, in a dystopian future, ravaged by disease and a scorched earth, a young man awakens to find himself in an elevator with no idea how he got there. He soon finds himself in a Lord of the Flies type of situation.  A culture built by young teens.  At the top of the hierarchy are the Runners.

Runners enter the maze each day in an attempt to map it out to find a way to freedom. The young man, Thomas, risks his life one day to help two runners and gets stuck in the maze overnight.  They manage to be the first to ever survive a night in the maze.

Once made a Runner, Thomas pushes for the group to try and find the way out more aggressively.  This results in divisions among the group.

Part of the slew of films that adapted young adult novels to have the next Hunger Games, the Maze Runner exploits the ever popular “Teens in a Terrible Future” plot that fuels an entire subset of young adult books. But while it has strong similarities, it also sets itself apart a bit.  Built in with a larger mystery (why are the kids in the maze? What is WCKD?) the film smartly keeps the viewer in Thomas’ shoes.  He has no memory of why he is there or what he did before and we learn everything as he does.

The effects are pretty good, with an interesting monster design for the Grievers (creatures that hunt in the maze). The Maze design is intriguing and the action sequences are exciting.

The performances are quite good (Will Poulter, who played Eustace in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, continues to impress me).

Is the Maze Runner awesome? No.  But it makes for a fairly entertaining sci-fi actioner.

 

It’s a Jungle Out There (Jumanji, 1995)

Jumanji_1995_PosterA tale of standing up to your fears via games, Jumanji tells the adventurous tale of Alan Parrish, a bullied young man with a domineering father, who finds the magical game.  He starts a game with his friend Sarah, but before she can role the dice, he disappears into the game and the room fills with bats.  Sarah runs away and the film leaps ahead twenty six years.

Judy and Peter Shepherd move into the Parrish house with their aunt.  They discover the game and free Alan.  But the game is not over, as the house and soon the neighborhood start to fill with jungle creatures.  And to top it off, there is the hunter Van Pelt, who is chasing after Alan.

They track down the grown up Sarah and coerce her into helping finish the game, all while their world gets turned more and more upside down. Their only hope to set things back to normal is to finish the game.

Williams is fun as the grown Alan Parrish, and the film sets him up as a kid in need of a reality check.  David Alan Grier plays an employee of Alan’s father who is fired because he covers for a screwup of Alan’s at his father’s factory.  It is not that Alan lacks reasons to be a bit selfish and bitter.  But the film shows he needs to grow. In an interesting choice, the villain Van Pelt (an evil big game hunter within the Jumanji game) is played by Jonathan Hyde, who also plays Alan’s father.  He actually brings warmth to Alan’s stern father towards the end, allowing the viewer to see why Alan still loves him.  Part of that is played out when the adult Alan learns his father actually pretty much gave up on everything else in the effort to find his son.

Jumanji is dragged down a bit by it’s dated 1990’s digital effects, most distracting in the digital monkeys. However, this is still a pretty enjoyable and light film.

 

 

An Easy Mess (Easy A, 2010)

easy-a-movie-posterI had high hopes of this being a clever teen comedy in the 10 Things I Hate About You Vein.  It starred Emma Stone, who seems to be able to brighten up the lamest of films.  It was a fresh take on a dusty classic.

And there are things I found in the film to be praiseworthy.  It’s likable cast, for instance.  Everyone does well, even though some character roles are terribly thankless(more on that later).  There are some solid laughs, and the interaction between Olive (Stone) and her carefree liberal parents (Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson) have their moments.  I liked the framing structure (Olive is broadcasting her story to the web).  I liked how they dealt with the potential fallout of the situation in Olive’s life.  Olive is a very likable character.  Smart, sarcastic, yet compassionate and supportive of her friends (it is this aspect of the character that creates the situation of the movie).

What is that situation?  Basically, Olive makes up a white lie to satisfy her friend Rhi (Aly Milchaka).  She find’s Rhi’s family uncomfortable and does not want to go camping with them, and says she has a date with a college boy.  Rhi presses for details, convinced Olive has lost her virginity.  So, rather than come clean, she tells Rhi what she wants to hear in the girls bathroom.  Which is overheard by Exaggerated Southern Christian Stereot-uh- Marianne (Amanda Bynes).  This spreads across the school like wildfire.  A friend (Dan Byrd) is facing bullying at school.  He’s gay and people suspect it…weary of the abuse he begs Olive to pretend they had sex together.  So at a party, they stage an elaborate sequence to convince everyone that the pair hooked up.

From there it snowballs, other guys start trying to get her okay to say they have done various sexual acts with her.  It snowballs until she is taking credit for things to protect a teacher and losing her friends.

And it is this area where the film just gets messy… for instance, Olive and Rhi have a falling out- resulting in Rhi disappearing for much of the film.  And Marianne…dear God, Marianne.  First, I have a hard time buying that someone that conservative and pious would wear outfits that are all that tight.  I would expect the character to be more modest.  Plus, she has this thick southern accent that nobody else seems to share.  It’s as if they think becoming a Christian results in developing a Texas Accent.  The character is cut from the cloth of a long line of Conservative Evangelical villains, and is so deathly cliched it is insulting-no matter what you believe.

On the positive side, there is no absurd comeuppance sequence revealing Marianne to be some secret slut in an attempt by the movie to shame her.  So, I guess we should consider ourselves lucky.

The end is a terrific mess.  I get why they ended it the way they did.  Earlier in the film, Olive laments that her life is not more like an 80’s teen romance, set to a montage of John Cusack, Patrick Dempsy and John Hughes flicks.  And the film’s final moments touch on that, including the montage of characters having a moment of realization.  But much is unresolved in this ending.  And not in a what happens next makes you want more, way.  But rather that you are watching the filmmakers cheat.  What exactly is Marianne’s revelation?  We don’t know.  But she seems sad.  Same with Rhi…and is their friendship salvaged?  Who knows…apparently Olive patching things up with her best friend did not strike the film makers as important.  It feels as if they had no idea how to resolve all their dangling threads…so they just show us the characters looking pensive and assume that allows them to end the movie.  But it just feels like a massive cheat.  So, the film is just a mess of good and bad… it’s a slapdash of humorous scenes and thoughtful moments adrift in a storm of bad storytelling.

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