Monday, February 23, 2015

The Maze Runner

Starring: Dylan O'Brien, Kaya Scodelario, & Thomas Sangster
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

The Maze Runner series really appealed to me and long before it was a movie, I read all four books. I was hoping that like The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner would be a page for page telling of the story, but it wasn't and in fact several important elements crucial to the sequels were left out. The story begins with a boy named Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) waking up in an elevator, surrounded by dozens of other boys. Thomas has no memory other than his name and quickly learns that none of the other boys do either. They are all trapped in the middle of a maze with no idea why or how to escape. This film was done well, but compared to the book, it is like a seventh graders book report. All the players are the same and the events are relatively the same, but all those little things that made this series so special and unique were left out. The film is just a simple story with some terrific special effects, but the book was really extraordinary and non-readers will never have any idea of just how good this movie could have been. Teen Wolf's Dylan O'Brien stars and really was the perfect choice to play Thomas. Unlike some of the other casting choices, O'Brien really seems to jump right from the pages to the screen in a defining role that almost seemed made for him. Thomas was the same in the movie as he was in the book, but he was the only one. It's very hard to be objective about this, because if I hadn't read the book, I still would have enjoyed the film, but realizing just how much of the story is missing really bothers me and skewed my review of the film. The story is unique, the special effects are great, and their some very good young actors here, I still highly recommend The Maze Runner, but if you are a reader and you enjoy Science Fiction, by all means read the book first.

Do not read any further if you haven't seen the film and don't want to know what happens.

10 Key Difference Between The Book & The Film:
1) The story takes place over the course of a couple months, not a couple days.

2) After Teresa collapses, she is an a coma for several weeks, where she can talk to Thomas telepathically. Her memory is slowly being erased while she is unconscious, but she is the only one who claims WICKED is good and she tells Thomas that they were part of the team that designed the maze.

3)  As a greenhorn, it takes Thomas a long time to be accepted and he spends much of his time during the first part of the book only even talking to Chuck. That is why they are so close, not just because of a simple promise made in the jail

4) When Albie wakes up, he tries to kill himself, then he sets the map room on fire. It's not Gally who doesn't want them to leave the maze, it's Albie, because he is able to remember the world before the maze and it's HE who tells them about the flair, not WICKED.

5) The Maze is not an outdoor structure as seen in the end of the film, it is inside the whole time to protect the boys from getting the flair.

6) Gally never takes control, never forms a group, and never threatens to exile anyone. After the grievers attack the glade, Gally blames Thomas and wants him exiled, when the council says no, Gally runs off into the maze and isn't heard from for weeks and is presumed dead.

7) Albie isn't killed in the Homstead, he actually makes it out into the Maze with the group and sacrifices himself while fighting the grievers.

8) Gally is never stung by a griever, he has been manipulated by WICKED with the single intention of killing Thomas, NOT stopping the boys escape, and he doesn't have a gun, it's a knife. After Gally kills Chuck, Thomas tries to strangle him, but doesn't finish the job, he is separated by a group of rebels who have broken into WICKED in order to free the boys from the experiments. There is no message from a female doctor and there are no dead WICKED members lying around. The rebels literally break into the fully functional and staffed control room, rescue a lot more than a handful of the gladers, fight through a group of cranks, and THEN put them on buses to take them away.

9) Albie is not the soul leader, there is a ruling counsel in which Newt is second in charge. When Albie is out of it Newt takes control. Newt had previously had Minho's job as the head of the runners until he suffered a broken ankle and he's supposed to walk with a noticeable limp. 

10) They don't find a secret passage in the Maze that leads to their escape. Thomas and Minho follow a griever the night they are trapped in the maze, but they follow him to the edge of a cliff, where the creature disappears into thin air. The boys never know for a fact that it's the exit until they are fighting the grievers and jump off the cliff. When they get to the bottom, they must enter a code, but it's not a number. During the book they learn the maze changes form every day and actually spells out a letter a day, and a repeated phrase every months. The repeated phrase is actually the code, but not to open a door, instead, it's to shut off the grievers. The exit is unlocked and at the bottom of the cliff, the boys just need the courage to jump off to escape from the maze.


Starring: Judd Nelson, Devon Sawa, & Joey Lauren Adams
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

There is nothing more fun to watch than a good mystery and the truth is that I loved every minute of the film, Endure, but it did have a critical flaw. Similar to what you see on TV, the film tells us who the bad guy is almost right away, making the film about the investigation rather than the mystery. A fatal car accident on a desolate highway has led to a shocking discovery. Inside the car, police find evidence that a woman has been abducted. Now the clock is on to find her and to see if in fact the man was working alone or had help. The cast pairing in this film appealed to me before I'd even seen the film, as in 2010, you have an investigative team made of an 80s teen idol and a 90s teen heartthrob. Right away, I knew there would be an interesting dynamic, but it was far an above what I expected. 80s party animal, Judd Nelson, stars and this time he's the seriously uptight, by the book guy that he despised and challenged for a decade. Nelson is paired with Devon Sawa, a favorite actor of mine, who long ago proved that he had a lot more going for him then just his looks. Together the pair are complete opposites, and go about things in completely different ways in order to achieve the same goal. As horrible as it sounds, this film was just a lot fun to watch. The material may have been dark and serious, but watching each man do his own thing and then try to work together was fantastic. I am just really bothered by the fact that we know the whole story twenty minutes into the film. That's fine for an episode of Law & Order, but in a film with such a unique dynamic, I would have loved to have seen a surprise ending. All that aside, Endure has a great cast and really does stand out from the dozens of other films produced every year about simple police investigation.

Chasing 3000

Starring: Trevor Morgan, Rory Culkin, & Lauren Holly
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Often times sports can bring out the best and the worst in people, but the majority of those stories take place on the field of play. Everything that happens is centered around the game, and rightfully so, that's where the cameras are focused, but once in a while, a story comes along that takes the focus off the field, Chasing 3000 is one such story. In the summer of 1972, Roberto Clemente is 6 hits away from reaching 3000 hits, but brothers Mickey and Roger are stuck in Southern California. Roger's (Rory Culkin) muscular dystrophy has forced the family to relocate, leaving the boys 3000 miles away from their favorite baseball player, but Mickey (Trevor Morgan) has no intention of it preventing him from witnessing history. One weekend when their mother goes away on business, the boys decide to steal her car and make the journey back home, to Pittsburgh. Despite this being a true story, with the cast they have, I feared that this movie would be some lame farce, but it surprised me by being genuine and heartwarming. The truth is that Mickey seemed to always resent his brother, until they went on the trip, and he realized just how a like they really are. Trevor Morgan stars and while I usually don't like the roles he chooses, but he is a very solid young lead. Morgan was good, but it's Rory Culkin who steals the show, playing the hopelessly ill younger brother, who at heart is every bit the wild teenager that his brother is. Along the way, the boys meet a whole cast of unusual characters portrayed in cameos by some people you'd never expect to see in an independent film. As I've said a million times, depth of cast always helps a film along, especially an independent drama. A lot of people will be turned off by the fact that this film centers around a historic sports achievement, but this is by no means a film about sports, and should appeal to large audiences.

The Ox-Bow Incident

Starring: Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews, & Harry Morgan
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I'm not one for early cinema, as I find most films prior to 1970 to be way over the top. The Ox-Bow had it's fair share of over the top cliche, but it also vividly illustrates a time in American history we don't learn much about. American history is often about the wars and the personalities, simple things like the wild west are left to films known as Westerns. The vast majority of these films tend to tell stories of historic figures, or focus on shoot outs and war, but Ox-bow stands apart, as it shows just how wild the frontier was. Taking place in 1885, the Ox-Bow incident follows the residents of a small town, who decide to take justice into their own hands following the murder of one of their own. Despite warnings from the local judge and sheriff, the towns people form a posse, and search for the men responsible, and they find them in an area known as the Ox-Bow. Once these men are found, the posse is divided and must decide which is the proper method of justice. I don't like Westerns, but I enjoyed the Ox-Bow, because it is just so radically different from every other film of this type and despite the cliches, it gives a real depiction of the problems the government faced when trying to tame the west. The legendary Henry Fonda stars in an era when it was very easy to tell a good actor from a bad one. He was level headed and didn't do things completely over the top, but the same can't be said for the rest of the cast. Perhaps the most interesting thing to see just how much Fonda style stood out and how it still resonates today in the performances of people like George Clooney. The other styles of acting portrayed have long since gone to the waste side, but Fonda's endures, showing that he was good enough to stand the test of time. The Ox-Bow isn't the most exciting film you'll ever see, in fact, many thing just don't make sense, but it still remains one of the defining accounts of the ordinary citizens of the wild west. People are still talking about it 70 years later and I suspect they'll still be talking about 70 years from now as it has to be included in any discussion of early American cinema.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Necessary Roughness (1991)

Starring: Scott Bakula, Robert Loggia, & Harley Jane Kozak
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Texas State University has just won the National Championship, but they did so by cheating. The team has been expelled and the coaches have been fired, meaning the upcoming seasons will have to feature a has been coach and a team of walk-ons. The new team will include a 37 year old quarterback, a wide receiver who can't catch a cold, a science teacher at linebacker, and a female kicker. Sports comedies require a very delicate balance to avoid leaning one way or the other, and on both sides, Necessary Roughness fails to deliver. This film really isn't that funny and the team just sucks, making for a painfully predictable experience. While featuring one of the greatest motivational locker room speeches of all time, the film really doesn't have much else going for it. Scott Bakula stars and tries his best to make the story believable, but it just isn't, and when you add Sinbad and Katy Ireland to the mix, it just makes for a very uneven film. For something like this to work, it has be raunchy and way out there, hysterical with a completely unforeseen ending, similar to Major League. This film has none of it, as the jokes are all at a fifth grade level and the on-field action isn't at all believable. I love a good sports movie and Scott Bakula can be terrific in the right role, I wanted to like this movie, but it just seemed to never end, a sure sign that the film fails to entertain or inspire.

Inside The American Mob

Starring: Salvatore Polisi
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Mob documentaries are a dime a dozen and are almost always the same. They feature guys who wrote books about the mafia, talking about Al Capone and John Gotti, until now. Inside The American Mob was a long time in the making and for the first time really does give an accurate history and inside look at organized crime. Two things made this mini-series different from the others, the first being, the people they interviewed. National Geographic sits down with actual detectives, informants, agents, and even current members, who live the mob life. They tell stories that haven't been told before and as it turns out a lot of things we've been told before weren't quite right. The second difference is that this documentary focuses on the timeline, going from the beginning of the five families, all the way up to today. Yes, they talk about Gotti and Donnie Brasco, but they also focus intently on the big names that came in between and weren't as infamous. I have an odd fascination with organized crime and I watch mob documentaries and films fairly often, and I usually don't learn too much or meet people I didn't already know about. Inside The American Mob was completely different, as each of the six episodes introduced me to thing I never would have imagined, told to me by the people who were actually there.  National Geographic set out to film the definitive insiders guide to the mob and they succeeded.

Alex Cross

Starring: Tyler Perry, Matthew Fox, & Edward Burns
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

As a long time fan of James Patterson's Alex Cross novels, I thought Morgan Freeman was the perfect choice to play Cross, and I loved Kiss The Girls. I was weary of a remake, especially one done by Tyler Perry, but to my surprise he was much better than expected, unfortunately, the film was not. Alex Cross has always been about beating criminals with his mind. The forensic psychologist is best known for his ability to out think rather than over power his opponents, but you'd never know it by watching this film. Alex Cross and his team are called in on a triple homicide, but the suspect had more on his mind then just his targets, and sets his sights on Cross and the team. There is a heavy focus right from the beginning on the bad guy, who we immediately see is Matthew Fox. To me this took all the mystery right out of the story, and instead of being a who done it, the film was about how to catch the bad guy. The writers didn't do that right either, as Alex Cross is blinded by rage and goes out guns blazing to fight and kill the assailant. While this may make for an exciting action film, it's not who or what Alex Cross is all about, and despite all the novels I've read, I felt like I didn't know the characters at all. Tyler Perry stars as Cross and shows that he's more than just a comedian dressed as an old woman. Perry was very intense and likeable, under different circumstances I would have really enjoyed his performance, but again, he wasn't playing the Alex Cross I know. He's paired with Lost's Matthew Fox, who has played the bad guy before. I love Fox as an actor, but he just doesn't have the look or temperament of a killer and wasn't very believable here. Alex Cross is one of my all time favorite characters, and the first time they put him on film, they did it right. The second time, wasn't one of Patterson's better stories, but still very well done. This time, Alex Cross has turned into John McLean, and while some people will love it, to me it just emphasized everything that is wrong with Hollywood today.