Darke Reviews | Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018)

Last movie of January, with a potentially strong February coming with Winchester, Black Panther, and Annihilation coming. This of course marks the third movie in the Maze Runner series and to hear about it (read about it?) is why you are here right now. Shall we recap the first two?

Maze Runner surprisingly solid and a concept we haven’t quite seen before with good production values and actors who are at least giving it their all.

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials were more of the same but plodded along with a pace that can only be described as glacial and with three fake out endings that just made me want to scream.

So is does the Death Cure just leave you wanting to die?

It’s been two and a half years since the last movie, there was of course the hiatus forced when Dylan O’Brien severely broke his leg making this to the point I hadn’t heard it had been finished until the trailer dropped. I was a bit unkind to the writer the last time T.S. Nowlin, but after watching this…no I still feel it was somewhat justified.  We don’t introduce any new characters I am expected to care about here, so I don’t know if he has learned his lessons in that regard from the last one. I do know that he either has come to understand or was able to show he does get it when it comes to making certain moments count – most of the time. He also understands all magic comes with a price dearie. More on that in the roll over spoiler corner at the bottom. It will be marked and you can avoid it easily don’t worry.  Nowlin didn’t have to do much here as the groundwork was laid, he just needed to finish the job and that he did.  The plot is coherent with a few reveals handled about as decently as possible without being overwrought, you can follow the train from point A to Z and it logics out. This does not remove my newfound concerns of him being on the screenplay for Pacific Rim Uprising (March 2018) or Godzilla vs Kong (2020)

Director Wes Ball got a lot of flak in the last review and it is also is still mostly justified. He has a style and visual aesthetic. I was glancing at some of the images from his 2011 short film Ruin and see much in the way of similarity. I complained last time of how they got Last of Us in my Maze Runner. This time he gets Fallout in my Maze Runner, more on that in the technicals. While he does understand what to do with the characters this time he hasn’t quite mastered the pacing piece. The movie runs just shy of two and a half hours and it feels it. His eye for visuals is gorgeous which distracts. The opening sequence is positively kinetic and is reminiscent of some early Fast and Furious movies in the best way possible. There’s a director in here folks, but I think he still needs to sit down and get a better feel for how to pace a movie as while I wasn’t checking my watch it was getting close.

The actors are of course the best part, and yes Ball gets credit for that. Dylan O’Brien can do no wrong in my eyes thus far. Little sad to see nothing coming on his IMDB page, but please Hollywood use him. He can emote, he can act, and he can do the action and make it believable. Ki Hong Lee returns as Minho and is a joy to see, even if he gets little to do. Kaya Scodelario has escaped the Pirates franchise to finish this one out and sadly reads a little flat. I can see her trying to do more, but whatever chemistry her and O’Brien had previously seems gone and it leaves her performance a bit weaker as a result. Thankfully we have Rosa Salazar who has all the chemistry this time. They give her far more to do and I am filled with joy for it. They need to cast her in everything. I am truly excited for Alita: Battle Angel as she delivered a solid performance this time and showed me she has the action, the emotion, and an ability to stand out. Personal choice: Please make a Disney’s Gargoyles movie and cast her as Detective Maza. Thanks. There is one other stand out, Thomas Brodie Sangster, our own Jojen Reed as Newt. He gives the best performance I have seen from him to date and absolutely nails each delivery through the movie.

On the technical front, last time I mentioned in my spoiler corner how the infected of the Flare Virus looked a lot like the creatures from Last Of Us. That hasn’t changed much, but we have also added Ghouls from Fallout 4. The make up is an amazing piece of work, but it absolutely will remind anyone who has played the FO franchise recently of Hancock. Bearing in mind this is an observation not a complaint. The visuals in the movie are rather incredible and when you consider the budget was only $62 million they made every dollar count. I have seen hundred and hundred and fifty million dollar movies look far worse than this did. There is an amazing amount of practical work that holds up remarkably well and the CG work that exists is blended near flawlessly. The pacing is still problematic, but I also can’t think right now how I’d edit it differently. I can maybe shave 10 minutes tops without losing something. It’s clear the directors visual style I mentioned earlier affected the production design and maybe he would be good with something like a Fallout or Last of Us movie. It seems thats what he wants to make.

TL;DR?

I was surprised to find out how much I enjoyed the movie. The opening grabbed my attention, the beats played well and the actors on their third film together have gelled in such a way the non verbal communication sells well. There’s some tonal issues in the movie, but they are all within the genre so it isn’t as bad as other movies that run into those tone issues. The biggest problem Death Cure has is it’s length and ok the biggest problem is no one will see it.

The Scorch Trials brought in $81 million domestic, a 20% drop from Maze Runner. With this January dump slot and weak opening to this years movies only die hard Maze Runner fans will go out for this. I think this might be expected considering its release date, but don’t go expecting this to turn around movie goers. You *do* need to see all three to get the experience and not enough saw the second to sell the third to the larger audiences. This is a bit sad because it is a good movie. There’s love and care here and most of the actors continue to give it their all. It was enjoyable and I have no regrets about spending the extra money on the D-Box (moving) seats.

Should you see it?

If you are a fan of the series so far, absolutely. Give it a go and enjoy the ride. They throw everything at the fence with abandon and it sticks and is worth it when they do. Even the lampshades look nice.

If you aren’t engaged in the series, try the first one. If it doesn’t hold you then you won’t get the same experience from the finale.

Will you buy it?

Honestly? Yes. Good visuals. Good acting. Solid entertainment. Salazar, Sangster, and O’Brien knocking it out of the park – no regrets.

Is this the end of the YA series conversions?

Harry Potter started it. Twilight let it explode. Hunger Games rang the dinner bell and everyone came running. Most of them tripped over their own feet. There aren’t nearly as many YA conversions these days because studios wanted to put minimal effort into them and paid the price. They think the audiences are stupid or aren’t worth it. Neither of these things are true and the cinema is paying for it.

If Death Cure is how YA franchises go out I won’t be sad. This was probably the best conclusion to one of these yet.

I am kind of happy that this is how the month goes out, it gives me a bit of hope for the year to come.

 

Um spoiler corner?

I changed my mind. It’ll get a spoiler editorial later. I think this one needs some thought.

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Darke Reviews | Proud Mary (2018)

2nd review in a week. This is good. Not getting a Thursday night showing – not so good. It’s about as indicative as anything else when it comes to the industry. There are always signs they have no faith in a movie. Review Embargo’s until release day, no screenings for the press at all, and lesser known and of lesser impact to the box office take no Thursday night shows. It wasn’t too long ago the only early shows were the 12:01AM – which was technically Friday right? Eventually we got more 11’s, then 10’s, now 7 is the average. Special screenings may even get a 6, like I had with Last Jedi and will likely have with Black Panther next month. All of that said, the lack of a Thursday release even in January is never a good show of faith from the studio or the theatres.

The question you are here to find out is just how proud should Mary be?

The movie does invoke my Rule of Three when it comes to writers, with Christian Swegal in his first theatrical film, John Stuart Newman trying to move from daytime TV (Days of Our Lives) to movies, and Steven Antin (writer of Burlesque and actor of Troy from the Goonies). As I look at this creative team I come to understand some of the flaws in the movie, but first the story. This leans close to spoiler territory but I also need to do so to set expectations because the trailers for this one lied like a cheap rug. Mary is a hitter/heavy for a Boston crime family who takes in a kid she inadvertently orphaned during a job. In protecting the child lines are crossed and forced to be redrawn, but this comes with a body count and soul searching. Can she save the boy and maybe herself in the process?

Now, I said the writing teams credits explain much of the flaws. First and foremost, there is a fundamental flaw in the pacing which left me bored for much of the movie as this is not, and should not be classified as an action movie. This is a Mob movie. This is a Boondock Saints, but with a female lead. The action happens, but it is not the foremost element of the movie, the relationship drama is. At least one character apparently exists only to deliver every single trope line you have ever heard. To his credit he does and it works better than it has a right to, but his dialogue is so bad. The ideas they want to explore are all there and they clearly cared about the project, but couldn’t pull it all together into a cohesive clean story.

Bringing us to the last major flaw of the movie, the director himself Babak Najafi; the man who had the same chair for London has Fallen. You may ask where’s the link to the prior review, but I cannot provide it. The movie was so bland that I couldn’t even be arsed to write about it.  I haven’t seen his earlier work from Iran, so maybe with a smaller budget or other material he’s solid – here he is not. The pacing issues, beyond the script and some clunky scenes and dialogue, also are his fault as well. There was too much shot repetition, the action scenes were dull. Yes. Dull. They are cleanly shot and there’s no shaky cam, but they also don’t to have real weight or depth to them.  On top of that, there are some choices made for some of the actors that diminish the characters; which is unfortunate because of of the actors knocked it out.

Taraji P Henderson (Hidden Figures,  Empire) absolutely holds the movie together as it’s title character. She delivers every scene with a passion that was lacking in any performance from the earlier review this week. She plays with the complexity of the character well even if the direction during a handful of scenes detract from what is otherwise a stellar character.  Her chemistry with Jahi Di’Allo Winston is incredible. Winston, who plays the child Danny, has only a few TV credits to his name but would be wasted there. He elevates a simple childs role far and above what many his age (14) could do. We’ve seen this type of character before become an anchor or an albatross around the neck of a film. They are played as cute, annoying, or obstinate to the point of stupidity. Winston and Henderson navigate the waters well, and here’s one of the things both director and script got right. Every scene with these two is near perfect. There are of course other names I could mention, including Danny Glover or Billy Brown, but the real stars are the two I’ve mentioned.

The technicals here are a bit short, as the camera work is pretty solid overall with some good choices on when to do a close or a tracking shot. The music doesn’t overpower and supports the story – always good. The action as I mentioned is not as good as it could be, but isn’t horrible for what it tried. The pacing though is awful which left me waiting for it to end as it went through its four act structure.

TL;DR?

Proud Mary is a beautiful mess of good intentions and well wishing that gets an A for effort, but a C on its final tally. I wanted to like this movie a lot more than I did; granted being given a different movie than the trailers lead me to believe didn’t help. What helps the movie is how much everyone is trying. There’s real desire here to let the character beats breathe, let the camera help tell the story without any overt exposition. Unlike Commuter, which came across as a lazy pay check grab for everyone involved Proud Mary feels far more of someones passion project that didn’t quite end up the way they wanted. There are not nearly enough movies like this lead by non-white actors, much less actresses and I was hoping this one could change the tide.

Sadly it doesn’t look like it will. The studio has no faith nor does it’s marketing department. The final project tried so hard and didn’t stick the landing.

Should you watch it?

If you need a movie to watch this weekend – sure. Though depending on your local ticket prices you may want to wait to stream or rent it in a few months. I want to give this movie money, but it just isn’t quite good enough for an absolutely go see

Will you buy it?

Yeah actually. Like I said I do want to support it and projects like it, so Hollywood keeps trying to get better with them.

Why are you giving this one a pass?

Because I can see the effort. Every actor clearly was trying and no one phoned it in. That gets you miles of credit with me. Also because there are enough scenes I like that it warrants a “Well could have been better”  out of me versus a “That was awful”. Also original movie in a time when we still complain about everything being based on or a remake of something else – lots of credit.

Ok, so next week?

I am debating if I am taking next week off from new releases. Gerard Butlers next spin around the proverbial toilet (Den of Thieves) comes out next week and I am not sure if it warrants my time much less anyone elses.

I will however see Maze Runner: The Death Cure on the 25th or 26th. I don’t expect it to be good, but at two movies in I am committed to see it through. Also I like Dylan O’Brien.

 

Thanks again for reading, but overall Proud Mary will be a pass for the majority of folks. It’s close to really good, but didn’t quite get there.

Darke Reviews | The Commuter (2018)

First review of 2018! Happy New Year folks and welcome back to AmusedintheDark.  Don’t worry we still keep things spoiler free around here. I know towards the end of the year I picked up a few new followers (still haven’t broken 200 on Facebook yet) and a few regular readers. Some of you have been with me since the beginning – to which you have my thanks for every Like, Share, Retweet, and Reblog. I managed to get a public screening pass for this today, sadly I am not online press – yet, but that is why you are getting this review a little ahead of the Thursday night release.

I’m breaking from my normal format on this one for a bit of discourse, a conversation if you wish to have one over on the Facebook page. It’s relevant to the final review so please bear with me and I promise you there’s still a TL:DR waiting for you at the end.

I mentioned to a few people that I was seeing The Commuter today and a few were like “this looks really good“, and I was confused. From the moment I saw this trailer I was at the most non-plussed by it, so how is it people have such a different reaction. I mean sure everyone has different opinions on things – that’s obvious. But peel the layers back and I realized, I’ve seen too many movies.  It’s the Reviewers Paradox (I should trademark that).

You see there are people who go to see movies and don’t care, which is absolutely fine. Don’t let anyone tell you different. There are people who want to see movies that make them think or feel something; to get that personal reaction of it whether or not it’s horror, comedy, romance, drama, or a philosophical film bridging one or more genres. Also perfectly fine. These are not mutually exclusive either. You can mix and match to your hearts content and I encourage you to do so if that’s what you want from movies!

Then you have reviewers or critics which I kind of consider similar but different enough for distinction. I’ll cover that in another post. We go to a movie for the reasons above, but also to constructively provide our thoughts to others on it’s merits and flaws. To provide a recommendation based on the experience of having watched a given movie and hundreds, if not thousands more. We observe the technical components such as editing, plot, story, camera work as much as the acting, and post production sound and effects. We store all of this and continually learn. If you look at many of my early reviews they are far less technical, but also neither more or less forgiving than I am now. Only now I can articulate better what is good or bad about a film. Which is part of the problem….

Reviewers and Critics – we see A LOT of movies. On average I watch 38 theatrical films a year as new releases and double that via mediums like Netflix, Amazon, Yahoo, Vudu, etc. that don’t make the theatrical cut. We observe patterns in releases, such as January and August being dump slots for movies that no one cares about. December being the drop site for Academy Award contenders. March, May, June, November being your tent-pole pictures studios hold their breath hoping to beat the others soundly with.

The phrase “we’ve seen it all before” comes to mind. This is why you will often see score sites, such as RT sometimes be so drastically different than the theatre goer. We honestly do, sometimes, see it differently because we’re comparing it to everything else we’ve seen before. We can see the parallels and repetitions. It isn’t always bad either. Movies can repeat themes, repeat core ideas, hell repeat entire plots and still be good. It just means we notice when they do and have to decide for ourselves

Can this trope/thing/mcguffin be forgiven? Does it add to the movie? Hurt it? Have no impact whatsoever and pass the pop corn please? 

This is the Reviewers Paradox. We are expected to provide constructive opinions on movies, but the movies themselves are by nature so repetitive in their components we can be seen as too harsh.

You will see in many of my reviews if you look back me use phrases like “I was entertained” – even on movies which are kinda bad. You’ll also see a lack of Oscar contenders on my list quite frequently as well. There are amazing films being made that are just plain “Great” that I will never see because the subject doesn’t interest me. Because sometimes I want to keep from getting too jaded from seeing proficient films that I end up judging other movies too harshly, where they aren’t as proficient in whatever arbitrary category you look at but provide some form of entertainment to its audience. I am never likely to watch Dunkirk, or The Post, or even things I am told are amazing like The Phantom Thread.  They didn’t get my interest and I may find myself not being fair to them or becoming less fair to movies that don’t have Oscar Bait written on the projection reels.

I reposted an article the other day talking about how Hollywood blames certain review sites and people like me for why people aren’t going to the movies. While the most common response to this is “Try making better movies” – I can’t help but ponder is there a kernel of truth. Look at what I’ve written so far about the difference between an average movie goer and a reviewer or a critic. I think about how many movies I put in the “Meh” to “Bad” category last year when I was writing my Best and Worst of 2017.

I even considered maybe I should stop reviewing because I am getting too jaded.

Then I saw The Commuter.

I heard people on the exit interviews saying “I was on the edge of my seat”, “It was good.” I thought about my own review for it, my own thoughts and how they lined up. The question stood out even more. We’re just over a thousand words on this review and I haven’t even discussed the movie yet; but I think this topic was worth it. Putting these words to screen from the horror show that is my head can help me articulate why some folks like a thing and others don’t. It can help you as my reader understand why you enjoyed a thing when me, or some other reviewer or critic didn’t.

I promise you, if you read a review of mine and see a movie, and disagree with me – let’s discuss it! Please! I absolutely have not and will never begrudge someone enjoying a film I didn’t or hating one I love. In fact, quite often, I’d love to talk about it with you. Not to change your mind but maybe to change mine. There’s a really good chance you saw something I didn’t, or appreciated something I couldn’t. This always intrigues me. 

TL;DR Part I

Which brings us to The Commuter itself and the question is this a train you should miss?

Director Jaume Collet-Serra returns to the screen with clearly his favourite actor Liam Neeson. Serra has previously directed him in Unknown, Non-Stop, and Run all Night. He was also the director on the fantastic horror film The Shallows. The writers on the film are Ryan Engle (Non-Stop and Rampage – to be seen later this year), Philip deBlasi, and Byron Willinger in their first official scripts; which does invoke my Rule of Three.

The Rule of Three continues its validation. The premise of the movie at its bones is “The Box”. Press a button, getting a life changing amount of money but someone you don’t know dies. Now they’ve added layers to it, such as an isolated location but we’ve seen these layers before in movies that didn’t make it work then, such as well….Non-Stop. You’ve seen similar “do x or y will happen to your family” before and mysteries on a train, on a plane, on a bus. It CAN work, look at Speed, Locke, or even Snakes on a Plane as examples. They all have very similar components but were just done better.

Sometimes they add humor, sometimes they add good action, sometimes they add tension. This movie tried to do the tension and action but failed miserably. Tension works best when you increase it and release it as the movie goes on. But never release it all the way. This failed to release the tension and continued it’s attempts to build it. Attempts is an important word because if you fail to increase tension by slowing the pace down or adding little twists and red herrings, but never giving an out – you end up with the opposite reaction; which is boredom. The Commuter is only 1 hour and 44 minutes when your average blockbuster is 2 hours plus these days and you don’t notice. This felt considerably longer than it’s running time and just when you thought it might be wrapping they keep going. It was like all the worst parts of the Return of the King ending.

This isn’t to say it’s all bad. I did, from a technical perspective, find the opening of the movie a creative way to show the day in and day out of a mans life and the repetition we all go through on our morning routines. It was needed for establishment and it was done well. It’s also at least an ‘original’ film, not based on a book movie or anything so that’s something. Next to nothing else worked for me though. The actors were wasted, the pacing was awful, and nothing came as a surprise.

No surprises mean you fail as a mystery. Even movies where you know the ending can still surprise you or engage you if done well. Look at Murder on the Orient Express. You KNOW the ending, but you sit through and wonder how it’s going to unfold.

With this movie? Not so much.

TL;DR Part II

The Commuter derailed. It fails on basic principles of being an action movie, a thriller, or a mystery. It doesn’t succeed at one when it tries to be all three. I maintain Liam Neeson, and most of the other actors, took this for the paycheck. Neeson himself has become a parody of his own roles to the point where people are going to want to see this to see him be “bad ass” since Taken reinvented him back in 2008 from a dramatic actor to the action star.  I would actually pay to see him take a full on parody role of himself in a feature film.

I really feel for everyone who made this or put money into it. No one goes out to make a bad movie, unless you are The Asylum. You make a movie because you love making movies. I feel bad when the final product is derivative and dull. Being a creator isn’t easy. I hope they find a new project that’s better because while Bryan Mills may have had a special set of skills, this movie sure doesn’t.

Should you see it?

Nope. I am hoping when I see Proud Mary later this week I can recommend that instead.

Were you really thinking of quitting reviews?

Yeah right up until I wrote this. I realized if nothing else Reviewers can hold Hollywood somewhat accountable. If “we” are to blame for the down turn in box office – maybe rather than being antagonistic towards its audiences and the reviewers Hollywood might start talking to us? It’s a vain hope, but hey a girl can dream.

So you’re not?

Nope. Still going strong. Still trying to see what I can do to stir up more viewers/readers, but I have ideas.

What’s Proud Mary?

Atomic Blonde/John Wick but with Taraji P Henderson and it looks awesome.

Thanks for bearing with me on this really long review and editorial folks. Hope you stick around and as always if you want to support me remember to like, share, retweet, and reblog!

Happy New Year.