Darke Reviews | The Darkest Minds (2018)

I’ve been eagerly anticipating this movie, which I dubbed “X-Men with kids” since the first trailer.

As you may have noticed I am kind of big on the idea of Representation F*n matters; so the idea of a solid looking sci fi / action movie with a young POC girl in the lead; my choices were clear. Now granted, I could tell already this was based on a YA Novel series and it’s getting an August dump slot, the first one of the year so the studio didn’t have faith in it.

But should you?

Based upon the novel series by Arizona native Alexandra Bracken the movie covers the events of the first of the trilogy. Why are you asking if I read the book to yourself? Have you not read my reviews? That said, I am kind of hoping she might be a guest at a local con; I’d love to interview her on the adaptation process and her involvement from book to screen. Her book was adapted for the screen by Chris Hodge, who looks to have mostly been involved in television prior to this, and was the creator of Warward Pines, which seems to be a slightly toned down version of Hemlock Grove and a more supernatural version of Twin Peaks – so take that for what you will. Not being overly familiar with Brackens original work, I cannot speak to how well the adaptation takes it, but Hodge does seem to avoid more than a few of the YA to Movie Pitfalls, but not all of them.

The dialogue is not nearly as clunky as it can be in many adaptations of material like this, but some credit will go to the director Jennifer Yuh Nelson. Nelson might be best known to most audiences for her work as director of Kung Fu Panda 2 and Kung Fu Panda 3; but prior to that she directed four episodes of the Spawn animated series (talk about dark). Her other background, which explains some aspects to the movie is as an artist, character designer, and story department. She worked on the criminally underrated 2003 Sinbad movie, and the amazing Dark City. This sort of experience lends itself to why the movie looks as good as it does in places, its strong dependence on overall subtle computer effects with a significant majority being done practically or with other visual tricks. She also showed talent in bringing well above average performances from most of her cast.

The absolute powerhouse of the film, figuratively and literally speaking is Amandla Sternberg as our protagonist Ruby. Most folks became familiar with her six yeas ago as Rue in The Hunger Games, and hopefully even wider soon as Starr Carter in The Hate U Give later this year. My partner and I tonight were talking at length about her and why she worked. Obviously script and direction help here as this has undercut other actresses with talent in movies like The 5th Wave, but here Sternberg shines. She is a complex character with real chemistry with her on screen friends and to borrow a line from another movie, She’s a Damsel. She’s in distress. She’s got it handled. Have a nice day. The character may be afraid and uncertain, but they never make her feel weak or simpering. This is a crucial balancing act in a YA or any material that is adapted and quite often fails.

Her main co-star Harris Dickinson (who will be Prince Phillip in Maleficent 2) also delivers. Quite often the male protag/romance interest in these films is completely bland from delivery and have the depth of a half empty kiddie pool. Dickinson as Liam lets the character actually emote and brings good chemistry with Sternberg. Skylan Brrooks as Charles is another solid character; while his opening can grate on some nerves once the movies pacing lets him he grows and you can really buy the friendship between the main three. I would love to say more about Miya Cech as the 11 year old Zu, but she doesn’t get to do more than be sweet and adorable and really a good counterbalance to the others strong persona’s. Unfortunately, no one else really stands out or otherwise borders on detrimental to the movie.

This leans into where the movie has some flaws, traps the director and writer may not have known how to find their way around. I realized watching this the problem with YA movies and am likely to do an entire editorial post on it later, but to sum up for this review – they run so heavy in the exposition, often with voice over that they forgot they are making a movie. When you read a book you need the characters inner monologue and long or detailed descriptions to let your mind paint the scene, the emotions, and to sell the interactions. With film you get to show don’t tell. The opening of the movie is painfully rushed so much so that the rest felt like it came to a screeching halt and part of that is due to the tons of exposition dump that occurred with little need for it. We’re told and shown when a show was enough. Due to this some of the characters would win my newly minted Snidely Whiplash award for hammy villains.

Image result for snidely whiplash

TL:DR?

While I don’t love this one nearly as much as Beautiful Creatures, The Darkest Minds is a very solid YA adaptation. It has good actors, a solid enough script, and good characters. The action beats work and the movie doesn’t pull punches where lesser material would. This surprised me a few times but I was very happy to see material remember the Adult part of Young Adult.

Amandla Sternberg is a gift and needs to be in more movies and I was very happy to support this one, even if it’s slated to be a box office bomb. Unfortunately this movie only made roughly $6 million of its $34 million budget domestically and just under $10 world wide. Unless there’s an international surge or my viewership sky rockets this looks to be one of the weakest openings and hauls of a YA movie.

So should I see it?

Well I would like to change this movies fate, so yes, I do recommend this one.

Would you see it again?

Honestly? The more I think about it yeah yeah I would.

Buying it then?

Without a doubt.

So how bad was that box office?

Well, it will likely do better than Vampire Academy  ($15m ww)so that’s a plus. It’s almost doubled Blood and Chocolate‘s $6 million world wide haul; but thats really faint praise on this one. It does deserve better than it got.

So…Rotten Tomatoes says..

Yeah, Critical 18%. Audience though with 800 ratings, gave it 82%. As a critic and reviewer I can see why Critics *wouldn’t* like it. It has flaws and flaws that I could be harder on if I chose to. I am chosing not to because it tried. The actors tried. The script tried. The director tried. It shows they tried and it wasn’t just another hollow YA cash grab.

But it has so many YA flaws that I shouldn’t ignore, but am choosing to because I believe a movie that tries is worth a dozen or more Pacific Rim Uprisings or Tomb Raiders or Death Wish remakes. We need more like this and less like those.

The Darkest Minds didn’t get a fair deal and that’s sad. If you have a free evening in the next two weeks go see it. I think you will see what I did in it.

Advertisements

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.

Darke Reviews | Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)

Yes, this review is incredibly late. Vacation, then robbery, then some scheduling conflicts with my friend who wanted to see it with me. As we go into this review please understand that Burton is on his last legs with me. I have not really enjoyed anything he has done as a writer, director, or producer since 2003’s Big Fish. In fact there are some works of his I absolutely hate with a burning passion that cannot be described in the english language. Dark Shadows, I am looking at you. I won’t even taint my site with a review of that rancid nay putrescent pile of celluloid trash. If that does not make it clear my expectations for this film little will. What I did look forward to was some decent fantasy and the generally engaging Eva Green.

Did I go deeper in or desire to escape the fantasy?

The story is based on a series of YA/Childrens fantasy book by Ransom Riggs, yes that’s his real name as near as I’ve been able to find. Originally crafted to be based on an odd collection of photographs it’s clear the story evolved into so much more. It was adapted to screen by Jane Goldman, who worked on some amazing films such as Stardust, Kick-ass, X:Men First Class & Days of Future Past, and Kingsman. The story is ultimately a fantasy in which our hero Jake (Asa Butterfield) finds out his grandfather’s stories may not have been. He journeys to Wales to uncover the mystery of the stories and is introduced to Miss Peregrine and her home. Of course such stories are nothing without conflict and for that we have The Hollows who well are the bad guys. In usual fashion I have simplified the story so as to avoid spoilers.

There are precisely three directors who could make this film that come to mind. Tim Burton, Matthew Vaughn, and Guillermo Del Toro. You need someone who gets the nature of world building and creating a fantasy world that we can both relate to but is different and one that is tangible. That is the problem so many other directors have, they don’t give us tangible worlds. Think of the first Harry Potter films or the first Lord of the Rings films. The worlds created were high fantasy but very real and touchable.  Most films lose that in a swath of CGI, this retains its realistic physicality even though there is a distinct separation from between our world and the next. For fans of White Wolf Publishing/ Onyx Paths games this reminds me of either a small pocket realm from Mage the Ascension or a lost trod from Changeling the Dreaming. What it did was give me a sense of the surreal, a sense of magic. If you know anything of me, that automatically engages me if done right.

Burton did it right….mostly. Vaughn may have gone too far to the unreal. Del Toro probably would give someone nightmares (*stares at Pans Labrynth*). Burton is a visionary director who for the first time in a long time showed that he can move beyond the tired cliches of his other productions. While there are echoes of his style, this doesn’t quite feel like a Burton film that we’ve become accustomed to. It is beautifully early 20th century and at the same time shows the banality of the modern suburb. The colour palette is normalized for the majority of the film with the colours used to add to the story and are neither too far in either direction of the saturation scale. Where he fails us is tone. The movie is inconsistent. There are moments of “wow that’s intense” with moments that positively eject you from the movie due to tone, dialogue, and music. This is a problem he has had overall and how in the end I know it’s his. It just cannot decide where its lines are and how to stay within them or when not to appropriately.

Asa Butterfield (Enders Game) does sufficiently well in the lead role, mostly getting to stare wide eyed or longingly depending on the moment. The longingly is for Emma Bloom the girl lighter than air, (Ella Purnell) who pretty much has the same queues. I can’t say if they have chemistry or not, but their performances together tend to repeat so much of previous scenes I’ve seen a skipping records with less recycling of a moment. Both do act well, but the direction and or script do them no favours. Eva Green looks and acts fabulous as Miss Peregrine and has a major departure from most of her other works, though I think her time on Penny Dreadful helped a bit. Everyone else in the movie is “Good”. Nothing to write home about, no particular show stealers, but nothing that made me wince either.

I want to talk about production for a moment. The costuming, hair, and make up is stellar. The attention to detail is incredible. It is really well done and I do not believe a dollar of its $110 million budget was wasted. Sad that it’s only made $57 million so far. At best it will top out at $65, ensuring we do not see a sequel unless it screams to life on DVD. The creature designs were incredible and original and I wish I could find who specifically designed them. They were really well done and this person needs more work. As always though, no one has quite figured out creatures and purely CGI in daylight that doesn’t look wrong. It was glass breaking, at times, but otherwise really well done.

TL;DR?

This is an ok movie. It could have and should have been better. I was invested in the world and wasn’t quite sure how it would end and that’s refreshing. As with a lot of YA works, I love the worlds built and most of the characters, but something fell off in the execution that created a sense of being disjointed. Like I know I liked it and I would even say good, but there’s just enough wrong that it keeps the movie from being elevated into me not having to hem and haw on the good factor. Maybe I am being kind because I want to be peculiar, because I want to escape into this world so much. Maybe they just did it right.

If this is the Burton we are getting in the future, I am glad. He still needs to fix his tonal shifting and pick a theme, but this felt good. This felt original and new from him. More please. You are better than you have been, and this could be better. Maybe it was stretching off old muscles, but you did good here. On your next do more and we will all be happy.

Should you see it?

If you enjoy fantasy yes. It has some pacing issues but otherwise you will be fine. I was successfully invested and that makes it worth a recommendations.  Just measure your expectations.

Will you buy it on BluRay?

Without a doubt.

What Next?

Haven’t quite decided if my week will allow me to see The Girl on the Train, but at a minimum you are getting the next Jack Reacher film next week. I hope it’s as entertaining as it’s predecessor.

Darke Reviews – The 5th Wave

So the first review of the year. January release. Not good usually. Examples? Sure!

Let’s face it January is mostly garbage so the Oscar bait at Christmas and whatever other studio juggernaut came up at the end of the month. *stares at Star Wars* It just isn’t a good month for film. You can fully expect that the studio just dumps something they have no faith in and hope they get another Cloverfield.

Did they get it here?

 

Based on a YA sci fi novel by Rick Yancy, the film covers the story of a young teenage girl who survives several waves of an alien invasion and her quest to save her brother. The first wave is an EMP that takes out technology, the second is an earthquake/flooding to take out coastal regions, the third disease, and fourth …well watch the movie to learn about the 4th and 5th waves. It’s not a bad setup and the overall execution is pretty solid on the narrative with the story taking place in two places with simultaneous arcs happening with the girl and her brother.

The novel was adapted for the screen by Susannah Grant (Erin Brokovich, Pocahontas – yes that one), Akiva Goldsman (Insurgent, I Am Legend, and…and), and Jeff Pinkner (Amazing Spiderman 2 and a lot of TV). Most of these guys are also producers in their own right and spent a lot of time with the TV crowd.  They have a pretty good pedigree of things just above mediocre as the group with Grant being lauded for Brokovich. So with that in mind how is the overall plot so…Ok? I mean the dialogue is Ok. The Plot is  Ok. The contrivances are  Ok. It’s Ok. Ok?

Maybe it’s the director? J Blakeson, who gave us the less impressive sequel to The Descent. I can see so much in the writing and direction that wants to be more than it is. There’s nuggets of something more here that just don’t come to fruition. One of the plot points requires everyone’s IQ to drop by about 50 points. The entire row of people in front of me in the theatre had the same reaction I did in one of the moments with a Spock level eye brow raise.

SpockEyebrow

Sense. That made none.

 

That being said, it annoyed in the moment and was gone. That is because of the actors involved. Chloë Grace Moretz leads the cast in admirable fashion bringing a natural charm and humanity in what typically is a blandish role without much character. She (with some help from the script) deftly avoids some tropes and charms us as she glides into others. Helping the movie along is also Nick Robinson (the older brother from Jurassic World); and while his role is largely reserved he does a lot with a few expressions which keeps him from being a cardboard cut out with lines. The same cannot be said of Alex Roe, who tries. He really really tries and just can’t be more than the stereotype his role gave him.

Production wise? The effects are just slightly better than average. The flooding is getting to the point of being over used. Since the Japan disaster a few years back and Sumatra before that everyone is in awe and fear of the Tsunami so any disaster needs one now that we can see what they look like. A few other tricks aren’t bad, not great, just not bad. There’s very few eye rolls from the effects side which made me happy. Some of the transitions were done fairly well. I had to admit there was a good colour palette from the cinematographer to reinforce which of the two arcs you were dealing with. Very intentional and very functional. The music does what you expect, but otherwise is simply pleasant.

TL;DR?

Despite how middle of the road this sounds, the movie was kinda enjoyable. I had moments of fun amidst moments of meh. While this may seem like a compromise (and it kinda is), I am ok with that. I do expect more of movies. YOU should expect more of movies. But if I even have a bit of fun I have no problem rewarding the film with that faint praise. It’s better than a meh and that means something since at least I felt *something* about it.

It does some things I haven’t seen before. There is inspiration here, I think if the Three Writer rule had not been invoked it may have been an even better film. Something more than Ok.

Though for a January? OK is good. I will take the win I can get.

Will you buy it?

Actually – yeah. I think I will. There’s stuff to the main characters arc I really enjoyed seeing handled.

Do you recommend it?

Ahhhh maybe. If you like Young adult style films? Sure. Go right ahead. You’ll probably like this more than some Hollywood has tried to give.

 

So that’s it. First review of the year. Could have been A LOT worse.

Darke Reviews – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

“I volunteer as tribute!”

If you were to have a vote on the top 10 iconic lines from film in the past decade, or even this millenia, surely this should make it near the top. It is a powerful line and powerful moment that introduced us to the world of Panem and Katniss Everdeen, the girl on fire. That was a mere three years ago, I have to admit I was shocked when I remembered how recent it was, as it feels like we’ve been living with Katniss and Peeta far longer. Studios have been looking for a franchise to come along and be as strong as this one; with only middling successes with Divergent and Maze Runner, which let’s face it pale by comparison.

So three years and approximately, 1.1 billion dollars later – where do we stand?

Let’s face it. I could stop the review here. If you’ve seen the others, you will be seeing this as well. I could (and will) go on about technical aspects of the film, but regardless of what I say anyone who is engaged this far with the franchise isn’t about to stop now. So this review won’t be a breakdown of the director (Francis Lawrence), writers (Suzanne Collins, Peter Craig, Danny Strong), or even the actors really. I want to talk about how I felt watching the movie. Things I realized.

I was mildly invested at the beginning after the lackluster feeling Part I left me with, but at the same time I have 6 hours + with these characters most of whom I like.  I had a conversation before the film about who I like and don’t, and while Gale drew the short straw as someone I dislike and Peeta was close second, Haymitch, Cinna, Finnick, Beetee, Johanna topped the list as my favorites. Where was Katniss? Well earlier in the week there was another Facebook conversation about Katniss, and I can be quoted as:

She IS a prop. She is also a survivor, she will do whatever it takes to live, but the reason she is important in the narrative is that she is the Noble Sacrifice. The martyr. She is 100% done with the world by the end of the first film. She still is a prop for other people with little action of her own volition other than defiance. That said, I enjoy the movies. The first book is ok. Is she a bad icon? Yes. But she’s one of the few film icons girls really have and there are traits worth praising.

I may have been mistaken. I think she is one of the truly strongest young female characters in film. She is a survivor. She started taking initiative. She took agency for her own life at every opportunity. Yes she needed help, but so do we all. What matters most about Katniss – she is one of the few characters we get that feels human. While Jennifer Lawrence was 23 when the first film came out Katniss wasn’t. She was still a child. She was a victim who refused to let herself be a victim. She was a child. She was a child who watched an even younger child be murdered in front of her and REFLEXIVELY killed another human being. They let that show. A few in character years later and she is breaking. There’s a speech near the beginning of the film that I adore as it tells you everything you need to know about her for the rest of the film. Jennifer Lawrence sells every bloody moment of pain, of fear, of weakness, of rage, and of being “done”. It’s all there in her performance.

Most importantly she is human. She reacts like a human. She reacts like a good person. She is one of the most “Real” characters in film. That needs to be celebrated.

So where does Katniss sit now as the franchise comes to an end? She’s still not my favorite overall, but she’s up there. I think this movie changed a lot of my opinion on her as I finally watched her character finish her arc. I was satisfied. I felt that things were complete.

For their part, everyone else’s arc concluded the way I think they should have. Each actor did a good job conveying what they needed to and each had enough charisma on screen to make me care one way or another.

On my more typical technical aspects, I think the movie may have been ten minutes too long. A few shots just lingered into awkwardness. A few shots felt extraneous.  The effects were top end from make up experts such as Ve Neil (Face/Off), and others who have won on Face/Off as part of the crew. The opening effect is one of the most solid I’ve ever seen and the movie really doesn’t let up on those practical effects the rest of the running time. The CG Hounds were…ok. They looked like left over stock footage from the garbage that was I Am Legend. I forgive them, a rare thing with effects work,  as they are meant to be artificial.

TL;DR?

The movie is 100% Serviceable. It’s the ending that needed to happen. It has no real surprises. It’s the right conclusion for the right arc. It WORKS. More film writers should watch this to learn how to nail the final act; something so many many fail at.

It didn’t have an emotional gut punch like other films do, but I also have no regrets here. I have no real qualms with this film. I don’t think it’s the greatest. I don’t think it’s the most fun. It is what it needs to be.

It should be watched. It was a good movie. Not just ok, but actually good.

 

Darke Reviews – Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials

I am curious and honestly thinking very hard here on how often the middle movie of a franchise with the concept of a trilogy being fully known is a solid film in it’s own right. I don’t think that Godfather was planned to be a trilogy, but if it was then you have Godfather II clearly. You of course have Empire Strikes back, which by the time it was made the trilogy was guaranteed. The Two Towers, naturally and I am sure there are a few others, but how many really? Granted I am talking there of some of the most iconic movies and books ever made, true greats. The Maze Runner doesn’t come to close to it, so I suppose it is not a fair comparison. Several of the last reviews of books to film adaptations have discussed the middle child before the final movie is split into two. By the way I have not heard an announcement of The Death Cure (the next book) being broken into two films.

So let’s get to the point – does The Scorch Trial survive itself?

The movie picks up literally right after the last one ends with the characters having escaped the Maze and being flown on helicopter to a base run by a man named Janson. Still on high alert Thomas and his friends leave the compound into the Scorch where even more risks and possibly salvation await them.

From a purely acting perspective, everyone gives it their all, when they are given the chance. Dylan O’Brien continues to shine and prove he is greater than Teen Wolf lets him be, though his fans know this already. He largely has to carry the film with way too many close ups, but covers a decent range of emotions and is at least interesting to watch. The rest of the survivors don’t get as much screen time as more characters must be introduced, though Ki Hong Lee as Minho continues to be the one we want to see more of. Giancarlo Esposito joins the cast as Jorge, who I just want more of as he lights up the screen. No one else really left me caring much, except a curious appearance by Alan Tudyk who I think was trying to impersonate Peter Stormare.

The weaknesses in the film can be pointed at a few sources, Wes Ball the director and T.S Nowlin the writer. Nowlin adapting the book to screen seemed to have  missed a mark in making you care about the characters. They introduce people, but you don’t care and point in fact you want to throat punch most of them. Granted some of the inherent stupidity of the characters may be in the source material, but to have half conversations and the pronoun game should be avoided as it really just tends to annoy – especially when you have a lot of down time to deal with it. It’s dumb and the script is dumb for doing it. Yes it annoys me.

Wes Ball, who also directed the last, seems to not know what to do with the actors, or the story, or the editing. The actors do ok. The shots and cinematography are great. The art is solid. Production design really good. Yet with all of the background elements working for him, the movie just kinda drones on. I mean I know it’s called the Maze Runner, but how many times can you run from a threat? There is an entire beautiful sequence that serves no real point other than to make the cast run again. The film could have dealt with about fifteen or twenty minutes of time being cut.

Now, I have been bashing the movie pretty solidly. It’s an ok sequel. Again the shots are beautiful. The tension ramps nicely and let’s you down relatively well. You don’t know who is going to die or if someone is going to die. They did better with this one than many zombie movies do.

TL;DR

The Scorch Trials are over. I am thankful. I wanted to check my watch at the end. It has at least 3 false endings, just when you think it’s about to roll credits it goes on.

If you are a fan of the Maze Runner books or the last movie I can tell you to see this; otherwise give it a pass.

 

 

SPOILER CORNER – ROLL OVER TO READ

Seriously, I think I just watched a live action version of The Last of Us. The movie has zombie like creatures that move fast, have no eyes, and eventually die and have the plant inside them grow into vine like substances. I know Last of Us came out after the book, but the parallels in shots from the game and this movie are kinda ridiculous.

 

END SPOILER CORNER

Darke Reviews – Insurgent (2015)

I love March. It marks the beginning of the end for the toughest time in the 9-5 and the beginning of movies worth watching in the theatres – at least it usually is. This year is really not off to a good start and I just looked at April and with one major exception (Furious 7) there is next to nothing until Age of Ultron. I also seem to be among the few who did not like Cinderella last week; at least until the Walker brothers discussed it recently. So this week we got the sequel to last years Divergent.

Does Insurgent live up to it’s name and break the trend?

First, let me compare a bit to last years review. My friend at the coffee bar at the theatre told me there was a near full house for earlier showings yet my show was near empty. This time, the house was nearly full in one of the largest rooms they have there; which tells me this one grew despite the mediocre ratings the first one got. I still haven’t read the books, though they do look nice in my library – which means this review is still going to talk about the work from a purely cinematic standpoint. My last review talked about dystopian teen fiction at length for a bit.

Divergent took the tact of giving us a movie about class-ism or elitism and threw it out the window by giving us a main character who isn’t of any caste. It’s a pleasant twist. Insurgent continues the story of Tris Prior, a divergent, picking up days/weeks after the events of the last movie. This time the story is as much internal as it is external dealing with Tris facing her demons within and without. I rather enjoyed the conceit as we have a world where that can actually be a real thing to you.

Rather than keep the writers from the last film, three new writers come in. That’s usually not a good thing as my rule of three comes into play. I haven’t mentioned the rule for awhile and have some new readers. If you get to three or more writers for a film there is a degradation in the quality of the film. Too many writers, rewrites, and cooks in the kitchen and it tends to show in the final work. It does here too. Newcomer Brian Duffield was involved, working with Akiva Goldsman (Winter’s Tale, Angels & Demons, I Am Legend), and Mark Bomback (The Wolverine, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes). I can’t tell what Duffield did for this movie as I have nothing to compare against. Goldsman brought his ability to write someone facing their own psychology, while Bomback brought a sense of reasonably well written action. By their powers combined, however, we get a bit of a mess.

The movie, much like the first, meanders a bit too much and has some odd pacing and tonal switches. It wants to address some things and then decides not to. It gives you threats then promptly ignores most of them. Like the first I have an overwhelming sense of meh for what I watched; and yet an interest to see what they do next. I am not sure how that works more than the movie falling to Middle of the Trilogy syndrome where it comes across as mostly filler but provides a set up for a more interesting finale.

I think the writers are not solely to blame for me not caring too much, as the director is the one who brought us one of the most bilious, refuse laden, nausea inducing films I have ever watched R.I.P.D.. I have such contempt for that film and likely find Robert Schwentke to blame for any flaws in films he works on. While, again, I have not read the books, I blame the director for me being deeply annoyed with most of the characters in the film. I blame the director for wasting Shailene Woodley as Tris.

I do not blame Shailene (Fault in our Stars), she actually does a good job. I understand her logic. I understand her fears. She makes sense and every decision – makes sense. That is so rare and most of that comes from the actor being able to pull off the nuance of emotions. Sadly something happened between the last movie and this one (I’ll blame Schwentke) with Woodley and her romantic co star Theo James (Underworld 4) who plays Four. I could be missing something but for the better part of the film I don’t feel chemistry between them, which is sad as much of the film needs that. There are exceptions, but not nearly enough.

Kate Winslet, as Jeanine, is one cat short of being a Bond villain.  Jai Courtney still annoys me and I am reasonably certain they used a cardboard cut out in two scenes with him and they turned in a better performance than the actor. Ansel Elgort (also Fault in our Stars) does well with what he has, but I don’t think he has much. Miles Teller (Footloose, Whiplash, and the upcoming Fantastic Four) is surprisingly enjoyable; even when he’s a jerk. He just makes his character work. The rest of the cast is entirely not worth mentioning – which is unfortunate.

From a technical perspective I’ve already hinted at some pacing issues. There are horrifically bad CGI birds that keep coming. When CinemaSins gets their hands on this, I fully expect at least one Birdemic joke; they are that bad. They are also totally unexplainable from the cinematic narrative. Someone who read the book might be able to explain them but from someone who only has the cinema to go from they make no sense. Most of the green screen is hidden and the action is pretty good. It isn’t perfect from a CG perspective but it does better than most.

TL;DR

Once again I find myself in the category of meh. I don’t think I had high hopes for this one. It proved me right as it is clearly a middle less interesting film that serves no point than to prepare us for something new with Allegiant.

If you liked the first one, or have at least seen the first one. Continue the story. Give it a watch, you won’t feel your time is wasted. There are some genuinely good moments amidst the ok ones.

If you haven’t watched the first, you’ll want to before watching this. If you don’t you may care even less.

There’s nothing major to see here. This isn’t the game changer for 2015 we were looking for. I don’t suppose I believed it would be, but it would have been nice.