The Maze Runner Movie Review 0 60


It’s pretty much inevitable that any post-apocalyptic film based on- young adults will be compared to The Hunger Games franchise. And the latest attempt at muscling in on the action,’ The Maze Runner’, is no different.

Based on the first in the successful series of books by James Dashner, the film opens without much ceremony on Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), a teenage boy who wakes up to find himself in a rising elevator, with no memory except of his own name. Once at the top he meets a group of other boys who reveal to him that, just like them, he has been deposited into a completely closed off environment surrounded by gargantuan walls that are part of an elaborate and dangerous maze.

The group has been living in the central area known as “The Glade” for years now, with certain members known as “Runners” entering the maze whenever the door opens to try and look for a way out. Just as the group seems to have given up hope, a mysterious girl (Kaya Scodelario) arrives, leading the rebellious Thomas to try and finally find a way to escape their world.

It’s an intriguing concept right off the bat and to the filmmaker’s credit they muster a lot of tension and exciting action. On top of the fascinating idea of an ever-changing giant maze, we have the inherently absorbing prospect of no-one knowing why they were put in this world or by whom. The film has been described as ‘Lord of the Flies’ meets ‘Lost’ and to a certain extent that’s true, with the obvious ‘Hunger Games’ thrown in for good measure. It’s a bit of a hodgepodge of ideas and themes we’ve seen before but given a bit of a fresh spin by this unique maze-themed premise.

It’s actually less about the action within the maze itself – which is, predictably, saved until nearer the end – and more about the interaction between the characters, the alliances that form and disagreements that turn certain people into enemies. O’Brien makes for an engaging and compelling lead, acting as our anchor throughout the film and making us actually care about what happens to him, something that’s often missing from these young adult fantasy movies.

We also have the likes of Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Newt, the most likeable character; Dexter Darden as Frypan, the father-like figure of the group; and rising British star Will Poulter who plays the antagonistic Gally, who seems most content to let their relatively peaceful and controlled society stay as it is. It’s a collection of archetypes brought to life with relatively well-drawn characters that are well acted by a capable young cast.

Once we do get to the action the film has been promising through most of its first two acts, it’s both very entertaining and pleasingly creative. The action functions kind of like a video game, with the characters running and jumping as they simultaneously try to solve the various puzzles the maze has to offer. It becomes even more like a game when it comes to the group doing battle against the “Grievers,” spider-like machines that patrol the labyrinthine prison. But it never feels like you’re just watching someone playing a great game but rather first-time director Wes Ball does a very good job of immersing you in the action and the unpredictable world. It’s also surprisingly not a big-budget film; despite its relatively small $34 million cost, it looks fantastic up on the big-screen.

The film isn’t without its fair share of flaws, mainly in the way it sets itself up as the start of a forthcoming franchise. The final revelatory scenes aren’t particularly satisfying in their own right as they take a “just wait till you see the next one!” approach – the sequel is already set for release next year. In that way the film works best on an individual moment-to-moment basis than as a whole. Nevertheless, for the most part, it’s an exciting and compelling watch that does enough to make it stand out from that oh-so-teeming crowd of young adult fantasy movies. Can this truly be the next big thing? Divergent, The Giver and The Hunger Games have all more than thrown their hat in the ring already but ‘The Maze Runner’ is sure enough of its own ideas and plenty slick in presenting them that those other movies may want to watch their backs.

This review was previously published on Scotcampus.

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I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 542

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 0 567

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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