‘Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials’ Movie Review 0 144

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This is a guest review by Maria Ramos. Note: Review contains some spoilers for the first Maze Runner movie.

While not as well-known as The Hunger Games or even The Divergent series, The Maze Runner trilogy has become popular among readers interested in dystopian fiction in recent years, especially once the movie adaptation was announced. The first film in the series, titled simply The Maze Runner, did surprisingly well for not having any A-list stars in the cast. It had interesting characters, a unique take on its post-apocalyptic premise and a great mix of action scenes and plot development.

So it was no surprise that the second book in the series, The Scorch Trialsalso received the film treatment. Released this year, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, continues the adventures of Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), Minho (Ki Hong Lee), and the other survivors of the first film, as they find themselves fighting new enemies and a new dangerous landscape they must escape.

Picking up mere minutes after the first movie left off, The Scorch Trials brings Thomas and the others into a facility that is supposed to keep them safe from WCKD. Led by Mr. Janson (Aidan Gillen), the Gladers are told that they are not the only Maze survivors, and that they and the other groups are now safe in the facility. But soon Thomas realizes that safety is just an illusion as Janson is actually working for WCKD, performing experiments on the Maze survivors to see why the Flare virus that has infected the world doesn’t seem to affect them.

The Gladers make a daring escape from Janson’s facility, only to find themselves in a barren wasteland known as The Scorch. Here they are at risk from Cranks – the flesh-eating zombie-like creatures infected by the Flare – as well as WCKD itself.

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While the first adaptation stayed fairly faithful to its source material, readers of the second book might notice early on that the film version of The Scorch Trials made some big changes. Gone is the telepathic link between Thomas and Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), the only female Glader. Also gone is the use of the Scorch as a testing ground for the immune teenagers. Instead they are taken to a lab and strung up like sides of beef to have their blood and immune systems tested.

Most notably, when they head out into the Scorch it is only as a means of escape and to find the Right Arm, not to find out why they are immune to the Flare while so many others are not. While not all changes from the book to the film are prominent, this change works against the story, as it removes the explanation as for why Thomas and his companions are in the area in the first place. And with a cliffhanger ending, it almost makes it seem like The Scorch Trials is just an action-packed means to connect the first film with the planned third film in the trilogy.

Each post-apocalyptic story has its own version of how the world ends, and each one seeks to show a unique version of how a new world order will or has begun. The Maze Runner series focuses less on global war and nuclear weapons wiping out most of humanity, and instead uses unprecedented solar flares and a highly infectious disease that turns humans into monsters. While the devastation in the series has only been a ‘what-if’ scenario in recent years, we can draw parallels to our own erosion of the ozone layer mainly through our continued dependency on traditional energy providers versus renewable sources .

Whether the cause of the apocalypse be war or human-created destruction, it is obvious that whatever happened has left the world a barren, desolate place where only monsters can thrive. With the real world suffering from climate change caused by reliance on unsustainable fuels, it isn’t too far of a stretch to believe reality could soon mimic the world of The Scorch Trials and other dystopian films. While that fate is hopefully a long time coming, you won’t have the wait too long to find out what happens to Thomas and gang. The Death Cure, the third and final film in the trilogy featuring returning director Wes Ball, is set for a February 17, 2017 release date.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 537

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 562

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10

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