The Maze Runner

Maze-Runner-Alby-Aml-Ameen-Gally-Will-Poulter-Newt-Thomas-Brodie-Sangster

 

DIR:  Wes Ball •  WRI:  Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers • PRO:  Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey, Ellen Goldsmith-Vein, Lee Stollman, Lindsay Williams • DOP:  Enrique Chediak •  ED: Dan Zimmerman •  DES: Marc Fisichella •  MUS:  John Paesano  CAST:  Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Will Poulter, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Ki Hong Lee, Patricia Clarkson

 

Based on a popular novel by James Dashner, The Maze Runner is the latest in a seemingly inexhaustible stream of “young adult” dystopian narratives.  This time, the action takes place in a mysterious “Glade” at the centre of an ever-changing maze, and our cast play a group of boys (plus one girl) who find themselves mysteriously deposited there with no memory of their pasts.  The arrival of one particular boy, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), sparks unrest in the Glade, and eventually leads to a posse making a break for freedom, while trying to evade the creepy part-mechanical monsters that police the maze.  Like many of its precursors – from the well-regarded Hunger Games to last spring’s crushingly dull DivergentThe Maze Runner deals with young people rebelling against systems over which they are denied control, and it’s perhaps this eminently relatable theme that has attracted viewers to dystopian narratives, while other attempts at post-Twilight “young adult” franchises, such as Beautiful Creatures and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (both 2013), have floundered.

 

The Maze Runner is more straightforwardly action-oriented than most of its predecessors, and director Wes Ball (making his feature debut after beginning his career in visual effects) handles the set-pieces with economy and poise.  A number of scenes involving characters negotiating the shifting maze are genuinely tense, although as the maze’s geography has been mapped before we enter the story, the thrills come mainly from the brute force of its transformations rather than the more cerebral excitement of solving its mysteries.  On the topic of brute force, The Maze Runner is also surprisingly violent for a film aimed principally at a young audience, particularly when it enters the final stretch, as infighting and monster attacks whittle down the cast.

 

As Thomas, Dylan O’Brien gives a committed performance, carrying the bulk of the narrative.  Save for some rather ham-fisted exposition delivered by a wasted Patricia Clarkson, the film hews closely to Thomas’s perspective, and he makes for an appealing hero.  Of the other boys, Will Poulter makes the strongest impression as the antagonistic Gally, his brow permanently furrowed in indignation.  Kaya Scodelario, after an interesting if truncated turn in Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights (2011), feels a little bit beyond the tag-along role she plays here.  As Teresa, the only girl to be deposited in the Glade, she arrives half-way through the action and is given little to do.  Presumably, her character has a more significant role to play in subsequent instalments.

 

Those subsequent instalments are the name of the game here, because The Maze Runner, like so many other teen-oriented science-fiction opuses, eventually devolves into a trailer for prospective sequels.  It’s a shame that the film signs off with a craven bit of franchise speculation because, while the late twists leave plenty of questions hanging, they also cancel out many of the distinguishing features of the narrative up to this point.  Still, for what it is, the film mostly works.  The cast are game, the action sequences are effective, and the monsters are scary.   Viewers could do a lot worse in this subgenre, and they may find themselves hoping The Maze Runner proves to be more of a Hunger Games than a Mortal Instruments at the box office.

 

David Turpin

12A (See IFCO for details)

113 minutes

The Maze Runner is released 10th October 2014

The Maze Runner  – Official Website

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Cinema Review: The East

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DIR:  Zal Batmanglij  WRI: Zal Batmanglij, Brit Marling  PRO: Michael Costigan, Jocelyn Hayes, Brit Marling , Ridley Scott , Tony Scott • DOP: Roman Vasyanov  ED: Bill Pankow, Andrew Weisblum  DES: Alex DiGerlando • CAST: Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgard, Ellen Page, Toby Kebbell, Patricia Clarkson

  

When Sarah (Brit Marling) gets a pair of Birkenstock shoes from her ice cool uber-boss Sharon (Patricia Clarkson), she knows that this is her shot at the big time – a chance to be a real player in the shady world of corporate private intelligence. Soon enough she’s lying goodbye to her boyfriend Tim (Jason Ritter) at the airport, dying her hair in the bathroom and coming out another door – she’s not going abroad, she’s going deep undercover to find out about The East, a group of media-savvy anarchists who are targeting major corporations.

 

Soon enough she’s hanging out with hippies, travelers and crusties, but then she meets Luca (Shiloh Fernandez), who takes her to a secret hideout in the woods – the home of the charismatic Benji (Alexander Skarsgard), suspicious Izzy (Ellen Page), sympathetic Doc (Brit actor Toby Kebbell) and others – all of whom have a taste for real revenge and, despite the cult-like air and some bizarre “bonding exercises,” are no lentil-chomping dropouts: they have some serious “jams” in the planning.

 

The first corporate victims get a dose of their own medicine – literally – and then a pair of industry bigwigs are forced to take a swim in their own polluted lake. It’s an eye for an eye, and though Sarah is quickly getting close to calling in the FBI, she’s found a bond with these people – and even has some sympathy with their ideas, and the evidence she sees that made them come to the conclusion their attacks are the only way the public will take notice. It helps of course that she’s attracted to Benji, but when one of the jams costs the life of one of the members, the group goes their separate ways – but you just know Sarah is going to be asked to go back under again. Only now does she want to go back for the right reasons?

 

Marling – who also co-wrote and co-produced this with director Batmanglij (and has written two other films including the cult hit Another Earth) – is clearly a roaring talent, and here she inhabits the role of the cold-hearted, all-business operative well, perhaps too well, as this is rather a cold movie, the only person you ever really feel remotely sympathetic to being the shaky-handed, brain-damaged Doc. Also, Sarah doesn’t really have as much at stake – or has lost as much – as everyone else, which makes her harder to care about.

 

It’s also perhaps a slight disappointment when it emerges that the jams are all targeted at the parents of The East members; it’s spoiled rich kid revenge to a greater extent then, something that explains the reason they can afford high-tech gear, a nice Mercedes and walking around money: high speed web access can’t be found when you go dumpster-diving.

 

That said, the film manages to walk the line well in what’s a controversial set-up. It doesn’t fall back on such easy clichés as explosions or choose a lazy reliance on sexual jealousy/romance re: Benji, but whether it will have you cheering for revolution when you see one of the victims of their jams – a cameo by Julia Ormond, who looks so extraordinarily like Marling that I thought that would be the late twist – is another matter.

Yes the chemical companies will undoubtedly and happily sacrifice all of us in return for profit, but just as tragic is the fact that we continue to elect corrupt politicians who are enslaved to the very same companies, and so do nothing about it. And as we know, resorting to terrorism only leads to more dead and wounded, and who needs environmental protection anyway?

 

James Bartlett

116 mins

15A (see IFCO website for details)

The East  is released on 28th June 2013

The East – Official Website

 

 

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Cinema Review: Friends with Benefits

it's your turn to wash up

 

DIR: Will Gluck • WRI: Keith Merryman, David A. Newman, Will Gluck • PRO: Liz Glotzer, Will Gluck, Martin Shafer, Janet Zucker, Jerry Zucker • DOP: Michael Grady • ED: Tia Nolan • DES: Marcia Hinds • CAST: Mila Kunis, Justin Timberlake, Patricia Clarkson, Jenna Elfman

Armageddon VS Deep Impact. Volcano VS Dante’s Peak. Capote VS Infamous. Antz VS A Bug’s Life. Whenever two movies with a similar set up are released within the a few months of each other, you can almost hear the ‘Fight! Fight! Fight!’ chant in the background. And while it would be nice to think that cinema is a broad enough medium to allow two movies about the same thing to co-exist, unfortunately there is always one clear winner. And this year, Friends with Benefits has beat out its competition No Strings Attached by a wide margin.

But this movie actually has less in common with that Kutcher/Portman flop than it does with something all the more surprising… Scream. Both movies are self-aware and post-modern, pointing out the traps within their genre but succumbing to them anyway. Both make pop-references both current (Louis CK! Flash-Mobs!) and ‘classic’ (Seinfeld! Nora Ephron!). Both feature the lead characters watching a bad example of the genre their extracting the urine from (Scream had Stab, and in this case it’s a spot on, so-bad-its-great rom-com starring Jason Segel and Rashinda Jones). But most importantly, both movies have attractive people running around trying not to get hurt, but we know they will eventually.

Justin Timberlake is fine as the recently dumped, new in NY guy with something of a troubled home life. Mila Kunis continues to blur the lines between cute and sexy with yet another lovable turn as a feisty and smart fun-loving creature. There’s some great support from the likes of Richard Jenkins, Woody Harrelson, Andy Samberg, Emma Stone, Patricia Clarkson and Jenna Elfman. New York is shot to perfection and the dialogue rattles along at the same pace director Will Gluck brought to his surprisingly brilliant hit last year, Easy A.

But the one trump card Scream has over Friends with Benefits was mystery. The ‘who did it/who’s gonna die next’ guessing game can’t be applied to a rom-com, as there is always only one outcome to these scenarios. Everyone and their dog knows these two will end up together, but while watching this, a little part of you will really want these two to remain just friends.

Rory Cashin

Rated 16 (see IFCO for details)

Friends With Benefits is released on 9th September 2011

Friends With Benefits – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJS-wWqVAyk

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