THE MAZE RUNNER REVIEW

maze-runner-poster

AMAZE-ING?! Hardly but it did do something I didn’t expect. It surprised me.

In case that sounded familiar, I think I might have nicked a Monsters University quote. In fact, I totally did.

Anyway, here we are. Another bestselling teen novel that Hollywood can adapt and churn into a million dollar franchise. Because that’s worked for every one, right?

BUT Hollywood have finally found one that actually intrigued me, caught my attention and kept it (for most of the film). AND for a moment, I actually wanted to see more. After months of complaining about the endless teen novel adaptations overfilling the box office; Ender’s Game, Divergent, The Giver, Mortal Instruments and now The Maze Runner, someone has finally listened.

Thank you, Wes Ball (Beginners).

What helped this; A talented cast, a good story and a director who wanted to try and do something with both. It’s not perfect by any means but not bad. Not bad at all.

So what’s it all about? Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) is deposited in a community of boys after his memory is erased, soon learning they’re all trapped in a maze that will require him to join forces with fellow “runners” for a shot at escape.

The opening throws you straight into the mix. We are left just as confused (unless you’ve read the book) and disoriented as our amnesiac protagonist as he tries to piece together everything. Why the maze? Why just boys? Where are the chicks? (What?).

The special effects are fantastic. The Grievers (the creatures that roamed the Maze) were brilliant. A demented mish-mash of the aliens from Signs and the mechanical spiders from Wild Wild West.

The maze running sequences were suspenseful, pacey and brilliantly executed. The drama around the community was a little predictable but with the cast at Ball’s disposal, it made it all a little more bearable and very watchable. The inevitable macho stand-off between O’Brien’s Thomas and Will Poulter’s (We’re The Millers) Gally was cliched as hell with their heated egos clashing in a game of “Let’s see who can push each over”. Manly . . . Okay.

Poulter is certainly developing well and mastering the American accent with aplomb. Funny to think he was the little lad in Son of Rambow.

His constant head-butting with Thomas still made for good viewing. To think, I only remembered O’Brien as that sarcastic guy from The Internship. However, he delivers a charismatic and solid performance as Thomas. Which certainly helps when you are the leading man.

Aml Ameen must have been a little annoyed at how his character Alby was treated. It was almost comical. You’ll know what I mean when you see it. Thomas Brodie-Sangster (the annoying kid from Love Actually or that annoying kid from Game of Thrones) played his supporting role quite well and didn’t struggle too much with the accent.

The pace generally zipped along quite well. Throwing in a new development from one of the community members or from the maze itself when things seemed to hit a lull.

The alluring Kaya Scodelario (Skins) certainly got tempers rising (Not like that!) and started getting some of our questions answered. However, I felt her inital entry was a little corny with the inevitable “It’s a girl” and “How do we deal with one?” gags being a little tedious. But this is a teen blockbuster and a 12A.

Now I haven’t read the book and can’t say how faithful it was to the source material. But it certainly piqued my interest to have a butcher’s.

Considering the film had that 12A certificate hovering around it, it wasn’t afraid to make some brave choices. The concluding moments were quite dark. A couple of things happened that even the old cynic didn’t anticipate after the reasonably sinister but tame tone that this film first promised.

The finale *POSSIBLE SPOILERS* inevitably leaves it all open for another. The final scenes were baffling and abrupt. At first I thought Patricia Clarkson’s (The Green Mile) talking head scientist was a little nothingy and unnecessary. How wrong was I after those last few moments. BUT for all my questions, I actually wanted to see what the next installment will bring. Something that hasn’t really happened for quite a few of the other “teen bestseller blockbusters”.

Now I hope that the next part will give us more of the same BUT not the exact same (I will keep that as cryptic as possible) or else my patience will be tested. BUT for a first installment, it set the tone, set the characters and hit the ground running (What? Come on).

Suspenseful, well acted, a little corny but a pleasant surprise. Run on down to the nearest cinema and give it a go.

A strong 3/5

Advertisements

MUPPETS MOST WANTED REVIEW

hr_Muppets_Most_Wanted_11

Meh-na-meh-na- Muppets Most Wanted? Unfortunately this time round, Muppets Missed Something.

Before you ask, I am a big Muppet (We know that. Stop it. We’re better than that) fan. I’ve loved the TV series and the movie franchise. After the fantastic reboot, it was inevitable a sequel would be in motion. This is hilariously demonstrated in the film’s opening toe tapping musical number, “We’re Making a Sequel”. The list of unexpected cameos who pop their heads up in this film is ridiculous and unexpected, despite some being pointed out in the trailers to help flog the film. I won’t name them all because firstly it would be a long list and if not for the cameos, there wasn’t much to look forward to this time around. Don’t get me wrong, the Muppets are still funny and have their moments but the material seems to stretch on for too long and we’ve seen it done before a lot funnier before by the gang in their earlier efforts.

A silly premise of Kermit being imprisoned and replaced by his criminal Russian doppelganger, the number one criminal in all the world, Constantine with a distinguishing feature makes for a funny gag that unfortunately drags on for too long. This cues a lazy excuse for a tour around the world with slapstick and shenanigans. It was great to bring Kermit back as the leading . . . frog after the last film was about Walter. Unfortunately, Walter doesn’t really appear or make an impression until the hour mark. However, when dealing with such an array of characters, it’s hard not to isolate certain characters. An unexpected inside joke pokes fun at this. It’s not all bad. Kermit’s incarceration in the gulag allowed for a funny prison musical number with Jermaine Clement (we’ve had one half of the Conchords, why not have the other?), Ray Liotta (All my life I was always wanted to be in the Muppets. He doesn’t say that. But I wish he did), and Danny Trejo as . . . Danny Trejo. Tina Fey as the ice cold gulag warden brings the odd chuckle and her singing isn’t too bad, despite an exaggerated Russian accent.

Now as you know a certain Mr Ricky Gervais (who has not stopped tweeting about this project) plays a pivotal role as the suspiciously notorious tour manager Dominic Badguy (Bad-guy? It’s French for nice man. Nothing? Well). Gervais’ comic delivery is surprisingly stale. Never was an actor. Let’s be honest. However, his expired ‘look to the camera’ face pulling spiel actually works and his song and dance number with Kermit was a surprise. He gives it a go and pokes fun at himself, inevitably Brenting it up. If you’re a fan of Gervais, then he’s does alright. Otherwise, his smarmy presence works for the role but just doesn’t quite click or come off as funny as you’d expect. This film seems to miss that energy and chemistry that Amy Adams and Jason Segel brought to the table. I mean even Chris Cooper rapped and still pulled off the evil role.

The gags on the language barriers weren’t too bad, most notably in Berlin (Die Muppets? They hate us already). Fozzy Bear, Animal and Walter provide some of the more memorable moments. However, there’s one diva you can’t miss and that is Miss Piggy. It’s hard not for her to stand out (it’s like she’s real or something). A surprise duet with another “diva” made for a typical Muppet parody. The Muppets still bring the laughs but it seems that the human counterparts let this show down for me. I mean for the movie buffs, the Swedish Chef does a passing Ingmar Bergman reference. Straight over the little ‘uns heads but brilliantly done. The songs don’t seem to be as memorable as before, apart from the opener, they don’t stand out like the Oscar winning “Man or Muppet”. The cameos, despite being unexpected, are hardly fantastic or funny for that matter. Brings the odd smile but once you see them, they don’t do much else or stand out, bar Christophe Walz doing the Waltz. Worth it for the punditry alone. Ty Burrell (Mr Peabody and Sherman/Modern Family) is a notable exception. His Clousseau-esque detective is not bad and his rivalry with the Eagle makes for a cheeky poke at US/French relations with a compensating big badge off. A guilty gag that gets a giggle. It has enough for the little kids but for the bigger ones, to quote the opening song, “The sequel is just not as good”.

Harsh but if not for the cameos, this could have been one of their TV movie counterparts. It’s tough but you can’t help but compare to their more successful sequels, A Muppet’s Christmas Carol, Muppet Treasure Island and the Muppets 2011 movie, and feel it missed the mark. Watchable, the odd giggle. Not bad but back to the drawing board, maybe guys? 2.5/5

Currently ranks #101 out of 156!

*Please note before the film there is a good little Monsters University short called Party Central.

 

FREE BIRDS REVIEW

da0dba87d95286d836e37ca60ab1e734_500x735

A few strikes short of a turkey with this one, I’m afraid.

A 90 minute mish mash of animated buffoonery that couldn’t even keep the kids in the cinema interested.

Two turkeys enter a time machine in a government facility and go back to the first Thanksgiving in the 16th Century to get their race off the menu. (Yup, you read that right)

After a fantastic 3D opening credit sequence, I could feel my interest wavering like the hammy plot line. We deal with the usual spiel of the loner turkey Reggie (voiced by Owen Wilson) who is rejected, from the farmhouse flock, for being different.

His constant urge to break the mould leads to his exile and a hazy plot involving a pardon from the President of the United States. Bizarre. I don’t mind sitting for 90 minutes with an animated feature BUT it has to be either; a) watchable, b) funny, or c) utterly bonkers. Free Birds misses the mark on all three.

The introduction of the renegade turkey Jake (Woody Harrelson) was a much needed boost. Harrelson delivered the silly lines with aplomb. It also delivered a good duo set up.

Jake needs Reggie’s help to save their race after receiving a prophecy from the Great Turkey and a Sacred Time knob (No, seriously. Not making this up). Leading to a mediocre adventure. The government facility sequence delivered the laughs for me and one of the silliest one liners;

“We have a contaminant. It’s a turkey. How do we address the situation?”

Response – “Uh, with cranberry sauce” (Bad, but it got me. No? Don’t watch it then)

However, once Harrelson and Wilson escape the facility (in a brilliant piece of animation) with the time machine named S.T.E.V.E. (Space Time Exploration Vehicle Envoy), voiced by none other than the legendary George Takei, the jokes fall sparse and flat.

Wilson’s comedy schtick failed to make an impression on the protagonist. He just came across as neurotic, whiny and annoying. When the featherheads travel back in time, it didn’t get much better.

They go back to the 16th Century and discover a tribe of turkeys who run across trees and hide underground from the pilgrims (and surprisingly absent Native Americans) until the final minutes. The action sequences were very watchable and well executed.

BUT the promising duo set up between Harrelson and Wilson was soon torn apart by the usual love interest sub plot (Not even Amy Poehler could save the day with her feisty lazy eyed protagonist) and some stupid macho rivalry between Harrelson’s Jake and head honcho Ranger (Jimmy Hayward).

It stole a funny pairing and replaced it with an annoying one. At first, the rivalry did have its moments but it soon went on far too long. A stand off gag soon drolled out into a idiotic dance off. The more random skits that popped up in the piece surprised me more than the planned ones. A telenovela skit was unexpected but hilarious. Not even Dr Zulu with his patented phrase could save this dead bird.

And the turkey hunter. Apart from me wondering whether it was Ray Winstone voicing him for 20 minutes (Until I caved and checked the IMDB app. It wasn’t. It was Colm Meaney) was completely unmemorable and flat.

The 3D was not worth investing in at all. Another wasted opportunity. What annoyed me was that the film had a different, if ridiculous, premise that went nowhere. The story line was lazy. Filled with dreadful gags and animated buffoonery. The time travel aspect was barely touched on. And when it was, it was so lazily done and riddled with plot holes that I don’t know why they even bothered.

I know, it’s a kid’s film but come on? There are so many better family flicks out there. This was clearly just reaping the profits off the Thanksgiving season.

This really was a turkey, alright. It fell short on everything. I would invest in another movie for the little ‘uns.

2(Just)/5