Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Maze Runner




The Maze Runner - 113min - PG-13

The Maze Runner is equal parts Lord of the Flies and LOST. As a Young Adult (YA) movie, it was well done for the target audience. The Lost format is a gamble because if the audience gets, um.. lost you run the risk of disengaging them if the questions are not answered to their satisfaction. As enjoyable a ride as it was, the eleven-year-old boy in me was filled with questions. They wrote the film in a way that keeps the audience ignorant of much of the history. The viewer has to be left in the dark because they are laying down a new universe and they get information at the same time as the main character. The action and the setting were enough to keep me engaged, but only just, thus I give this movie a Yellow light for its Meh 'Sokay kind of a film.

Thomas (Dylan O'Brian) is on an elevator deep underground. He has no memory of why he is there or who he is. He finds himself in a place called The Glade with other young boys who also arrived in that same fashion. Every month a new boy is sent to the surface with supplies. All of them are mind wiped.

The Glade is at the center of a maze that changes nightly. At night the Maze closes up because deadly creatures known as Grievers roam the maze. At first light, a team of boys known as runners get ready to explore the maze looking for a way out. At night they come back to the safety of The Glade.

The boys have been living like this for three years. Now with the arrival of Thomas things start to change. The tribe of boys is led by the oldest, Alby (Aml Ameen) \ with Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) as his second in command. The muscle of the tribe is called Gally (Will Poulter).

Thomas is different than the other people who arrived by elevator because he is notably more curious than the previous boys. Gally doesn't care for Thomas because he is different and his arrival coincides with other changes in the glade so he believes that Thomas is a harbinger of bad things to come.

A few days later another elevator arrives with a girl, Teresa (Kaya Scodelario). She has no supplies, only a scrap of paper in her hand declaring "This is the last one EVER".

The boys panic because the walls open up and the Grievers attack. The boys have to choose between staying and fighting or making a push to get out of the maze.

The end of the movie resolves some of the questions we have and in true LOST fashion they are coupled with more questions that hook you to the sequel to get the answers.

This movie franchise seems to have potential. The Director (Wes Ball) has a diverse résumé but for direction this is his first feature length film. This project is challenging because you have to balance a lot. I haven't read the books so I am taking the journey right along with the main character. I am willing to follow along at least for another film. However if it continues down the LOST path and resolves and creates more questions I am out.

Most of the answers come in the last 15 min of the movie. I'm sure that most of what I am wondering can be found in the book. That transition from book to film can be challenging because you can provide lots of information to the reader. A movie has a harder time of relaying information in an entertaining way. A story told on screen needs to be just as strong as one in print.

Each story is going to be about the same thing but told in a different way and both have to stand on their own merits. This story is another attempt to cash in on The Hunger Games like franchise. It too was a YA book and rides along the wave of like-minded stories from that genera. We've seen a lot of books to movies ever since the Harry Potter franchise ended and created a vacuum in the YA books and movies.

As far as The Maze Runner goes, I was only mildly interested until the big questions came in at the end. So as written they did their job as hooks for a sequel. I am only in it until they show me what they can do on the next film. You got a foot in the door, impress me.

If you want to go into more detail about the movie and how the end affected the story please drop me a line at fatsamuraireviews@gmail.com we can talk about it away from this blog.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy – 121 min – PG13

This movie is based on a comic book that started in the sixties, then had a revival in 2008. I know this because I had to look it up. I never followed this title so going into this movie I was a blank slate. I enjoyed the ride this movie took me on. It was something that tied into the Marvel universe but it was like nothing I have seen before. It’s not my favorite film from Marvel Studios but it is good enough to make the top 5. I gladly give this movie a green light.

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is a human from Earth who was abducted by aliens as a child. He was raised by raiders and has grown up to become Star Lord, a notorious thief, at least in his mind. He steals an orb that an evil warlord, Ronan (Lee Pace), wants for himself. Gamora (Zoe Saldana), an assassin, is sent to retrieve the stone for Ronan. Before Peter has a chance to sell the stolen artifact he is attached by Rocket and Groot (Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel) a couple of bounty hunters. They all get arrested for causing a fight in the middle of the city. In prison, they meet Drax (Dave Bautista), a criminal who is seeking revenge on Ronan for the death of his daughter and wife.

This crew joins forces for financial reasons to start out with but as they work together they develop a relationship that builds the team. And thus the Guardians are born. Their friendship is tested as they try and unload the artifact and find out that it is really a weapon that can destroy worlds.
The most enjoyable part of this film is the pop culture references that completely baffle the aliens who Peter comes in contact with. Some of the colloquialisms that we don’t even think about would be completely alien to beings form a different planet.

A friend of mine said this reminds him of a live action Heavy Metal. I would agree, aside for a lack of sensuality it was a completely fitting the gritty science fiction setting that you would find in that magazine.

I did feel the length of the movie at times. It could have been tighter, but it’s easy to see why the filmmakers would have a hard time cutting things out. The story itself could be trimmed, but visually, each scene looks great. This is an origin story so we need to do some slogging through exposition and exploration of the characters. Now that’s done we can go straight to new story arc in the sequel that has been announced.

It will be interesting to see how they tie in this section of the universe with the heroes that we have already seen. There are a few items that cross over like the Tesseract and Thanos (Josh Brolin). Where we go from here is going to be spectacular. It is wonderful to see movies being made by people who are creative and know how to tell stories. This film is another example of the business model of studio heads just running a business and the creative people telling the stories.

Guardians of the Galaxy is this generation’s Star Wars. This is an epic space story that has heroic acts and exotic locations. It’s not the retelling of the hero’s journey but it has a lot of similarities to the themes and flavor.

James Gunn directed this film and his bawdy humor is watered down but still apparent. For Marvel films this one has the most questionable language of all of the films. It’s a fine line between just the right amount to give the environment depth and being offensive. He picked the right amount.

Like any Marvel movie you need to stay until the end. You will see an old face that we have not seen since he was managing Beverly Switzler’s band. Seth Green performed as this character in the end stringer and I am guessing that Marvel is going to try and pretend that the other film this character was in never happened.

One thing we do know for sure is there will be another movie and like everything else we are seeing from Marvel I know it’s going to be big.

What should Marvel do next?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow - 113min - PG13

“The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense." - Tom Clancy. This phrase is the fundamental truth that everyone who enjoys science fiction and fantasy lives by. Writes who work in this genre know that if you set down rules to define the fantastic things you are showing us, you need to make sure that they are understandable, and when you set down rules, you live by them. This film worked very hard at balancing the story and plays within the rules for 95% of the film, then completely ignores its rules in the last 5% of the film. For that last bit, they earn a Red Light.

Earth is being invaded by aliens and the humans are losing. Lt. Col. Cage (Tom Cruise) works in the Army press office. While being reassigned to the front lines, he freaks out and gets busted down to private. Now, instead of reporting on the invasion he is fighting on the front lines, even though he is not a combat trained. The invasion goes poorly and he dies confronting an alien that contaminates his blood and causes him to restart his day. Just like a video game when you die you go back to the save point and try it again. After you die, you now know what is going to happen so you can avoid it.

This is a genetic capability of these aliens and the sole reason they are winning. Once alien Alphas die, they go back in time and, armed with the knowledge of how they died, avoid it. So that is the rule that we now live with. In this story this is how things work. Cage, being tainted with the alien blood also has this power now. He starts back at the morning before the final battle. The problem is that no one believes him. Really who would?

Here is where the rules are very important. The moment he dies he has to go back to that same moment in time before the battle. So he struggles through and learns how to fight from that same battle over and over again. He runs into another person who has had the same kind of event affect her. Sgt. Rita (Emily Blunt) was contaminated and had the same problem but she almost died and had a complete blood transfusion and lost the power. Not before winning a battle and winning her the moniker The Angel of Verdun. Cage tells her, and she tells him to contact her when he wakes up again.

Together they work to get Cage ready to change the outcome of the battle and formulate a plan to end the battle.

Remember the rule they started with? Once he dies, he gets come back to the morning before the battle. I love how they have edited out all of the boring restarts we don't need to see again. We see death after death after death but don't have to walk through the boring parts. You have to realize that Cage has had to live through the entire day several hundred times. Possibly thousands but we don't need to watch the reboot from the start. The gamers in my readership will get this next observation.

Imagine you are playing a game that has no save point except right after the character creation. Now imagine there is no quick play button through any of the cinematic scenes. Now imagine you can never play any other game or sleep or do anything else but play that same game you are locked into. You now have an image of a new level of hell. That has been Cages existence for years? This is a pretty horrific existence and I love video games.
I enjoyed thinking of that aspect of the film and not having to watch it. By this time, you had me bought into this new world and its rules on how things work. There was a lot of work done here to transfer the best parts of this hellish world to entertain us.

I hate however how this film now takes those rules and throws them out at the end of the film. If you don't want any spoilers stop reading here, but if you want to see this film rant continue please keep reading.

What have we learned, dead means reboot. So we have to kill the alien that is rebooting before we die. And if we kill them what happens? Reboot. This is the first problem that I have with this concept. The aliens reboot when they die and have the ability to avoid the thing that killed them. Ok let's pass this one up. Let's go to the one that really gets me mad.

The death blow is delivered. The alien Omega is dead and Cage and Rita have convinced a strike team to sneak behind Alien lines and deliver the final blow. They die Heroes and save the world. NOPE, they miraculously find themselves free of the cycle and are back before the morning of the restart and never start down the path of events that lead to them being heroes. The news reports that the aliens have just died. It seems that Cage gets some of the big alien blood in him and he is now free and can keep his original job and also gets to court Rita because he knows everything about her and they live happily ever after.

I am not anti-happy ending. I enjoy them as much as the next viewer. I really don’t like them when they are misplaced and an opportunity missed. Here is my armchair directing suggestion that I would have liked to see. Cage does kill the Omega. He sacrifices himself and the time moves forward. They are heroes for finishing the war and saving humanity. Having them make the ultimate sacrifice is great, but stealing it away with a restart that wipes away their efforts seems cruel.

Maybe we can slather the film in alien blood and get a better ending after this film dies. But I suppose that is just me.


Thursday, July 31, 2014

Lucy

Lucy - 90m - R

I have followed Luc Besson’s career for a long time. I fell in love with his writing from the film La Femme Nikita (1990). He never disappoints in making action films that are balanced with a good, interesting and engaging stories. Lucy is a big “what if” story that urges us to think about what we have done with our time here on the planet. Well, I have spent 90 min of my time watching a visually stunning story about the possible capacity for the human evolution. I am green lighting this film. Mr. Besson does not disappoint.

Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is a girl who is studying in China. Her boyfriend needs her to drop off a package at a hotel for Mr. Jang (Min-sikChoi). This quick drop off sweeps her up into the darker side of the underground drug trafficking business in China. She gets shanghaied into being a drug mule. The drug runners rough her up and she gets a dose of the drug she is smuggling. Her reaction to the drug gives her access to 20% of her brain, this gives her control over her body and she starts down an accelerated evolutionary track. During her journey she gets the help of a Paris Detective, Pierre Del Rio (Amr Waked), and Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman). Her evolution takes her to 100% control over her brain and the next phase of human evolution.

The trailer leads one to believe there were going to be more crunchy bits to the film—the kind of graphic violence where you hear the “crunch” of broken bones and dislocated joints. It’s graphic but very little in the way of hand to hand fighting. The action focuses more on the use of guns and superhuman abilities. Action move directors need to learn the balance that Luc Besson employs in his films. Action is there to enhance the story, not be the focus. If the action becomes a distraction, it needs to be dialed back. Cough… Michael Bay.. cough, cough.

This film brings up questions of where we are going, what we are doing with this incredible gift we take for granted. A good story brings up these concepts without giving you the answers. This movie is one that makes for some good conversations over pie.

Scarlett Johansson’s performance during this film starts out as one character and then her evolution requires her to embody a being that transcends our existence. She becomes more and more distant as the film continues. Morgan Freeman always does a good job and this is not his first Besson film. They have worked together a number of times. The first memorable role this collaboration had was in Unleashed. As always his characters are all spectacularly done.

The last film I saw with Amr Waked he played a royal prince in the film Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. His portrayal of a gritty Paris Detective comes off without a hitch showing off his range of characters. He also plays Lucy’s connection to humanity. Her journey takes her so far beyond our existence that she needs something to remind her of what she once was. This is the only criticism I have. He was supposed to be an anchor for her but he was more like a pet or a trinket that she brought with her. We never really understand what is so special about him that makes him her touchpoint.

Min-sik Choi wears the bad guy role well. He reminds me of a Korean Gary Oldman from the other Besson film, The Professional. A wonderful touch in this film is the lack of sub titles in the initial scenes with Lucy’s abduction. This brings the viewer into the feeling of not knowing what is going on and adds to the tension between the characters. It is a wonderful performance from Min-Sik Choi, his cold lifeless eyes are the icing on the scene. He has also lost touch with humanity for a completely different reason.

Luc Besson writes strong characters and all of them have a rich depth to give them savory believability. He writes with a firm balance between the ugliness and the beauty that humanity has. Getting people to feel for your characters is the hardest thing to do as a writer. His keen sense of how to bring that out in the script and on screen is masterful.

The take away I get most is how the film focuses on how much of a gift life is. I am sitting in a coffee shop reflecting on the 90 min ride I just got out of and I am feeling like I could be doing a whole lot more with my time. I can’t use 20 % of my brain, hell sometimes I don’t even use the 10% I am supposed to. I can’t change the world or my molecules.


I can change what I choose to spend my 10% on. I think I am going to focus on doing more on the things I enjoy doing that bring me closer to the things I want in my life. This kind of thinking is not necessarily what you would expect a person to be thinking walking out of an action film. It is what you walk away with when you walk out of a good film.