Wicked is Good – The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

The Maze Runner – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

The Maze Runner (2014)

Director: Wes Ball
Writers: Noah Oppenheim (screenplay), Grant Pierce Myers (screenplay), T. S. Nowlin (screenplay), and James Dashner (novel)
Stars: Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Will Poulter

This fascination with turning YA novels into movies sounds like a great idea on paper. But that is usually where the good idea stops. It worked with Harry Potter because each novel was its own entity. It had a narrative with a beginning, middle, and end. It wasn’t always linked into the next book so explicitly. However, when we start moving into the Divergents, Maze Runners, and even Hunger Games, there becomes a distinct problem. There isn’t a clean ending. The story is about to continue. In books it works, in TV it works, put it on the big screen and you are just left hanging with an unsettled and unsatisfied feeling. Don’t get me wrong. I freaking love YA novels. I love the imagery and the action in them.  I love the characters. My bookshelf is dominated by them. But sometimes you just have to say no to the film.

The Maze Runner series was one that I only read after discovering James Dashner last year. The series is good. The writing is interesting and compelling, and the story is fascinating in all its intricacies. It seems like it would translate into a great epic film. Visually it does. The movie is beautifully crafted. But the film medium just doesn’t do the story justice.

The Maze Runner is inspired by Lord of the Flies and the premise is interesting. Stick a bunch of teenage boys in a giant maze and see what they will do to survive. What happens if you run the experiment for a few years and then change everything on them within a week? Chaos. The great thing about the Maze Runner series is that it asks us the question: How far would you go to save the world? The problem with the film is that it asks the question: How far would your curiosity take you? Yes it is an action thriller of kinds but it didn’t have me on the edge of my seat, it didn’t make me interested in the characters like the book did, and it just simply wasn’t as compelling as the book.

However, in saying all of that, if you haven’t read the book it is probably a great teen action thriller. It probably will grab you and make you wonder where it will end. And you probably won’t see that last twist coming. The setting is frighteningly fantastic and the graphics are gorgeously gritty, the young actors do a great job of making me love and hate them at the same time, and the dialogue is used well to move the story along without feeling too expository. And let’s be honest, I still can’t fault Dylan O’Brien or Will Poulter on any point, they will have me going back for more.

3/5

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Will you love me until I become a hyperaware AI? – Her

Her - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Her – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Her (2013)

Director: Spike Jonze
Writer: Spike Jonze
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams

Spike Jonze is one of those directors that has a unique perspective on storytelling. From Adaptation to Being John Malkovich to Jackass. His repertoire is diverse. And always just that little bit strange. He is able to play with what we think and believe able the world and create a social and cultural commentary without making you feel like what he is critiquing is wrong. This is exactly the case with his latest writing and directing feat of Her.
Joaquin Phoenix is a writer in an age where everything is digital. He creates beautiful handwritten notes for people. He creates their voice, their words, their feelings, and is really good at it. But he has trouble connecting and understanding people. His wife left him and has drawn up divorce papers, he is a bit of a loner with only a few friends. So when a new operating system comes along with the ability to understand and predict what the user needs and wants, he subscribes, and then falls in love with his AI, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. She becomes every thing he needs and they start up a relationship.
This film delves into the very real situation of us falling in love with someone we can’t see, touch, be with. Most people would say that is just a long distance relationship or an online relationship, and that is what I think Spike Jonze is getting at. Why wouldn’t it be okay for us to fall in love with an operating system? We fall in love over a screen already, it isn’t that much of a stretch. We have friends all over the world who exist mostly in our minds and on a screen. Of course, they also do exist in the real world, but what if they didn’t? Would it make that much of a difference to us? If we had an operating system that was like our friend, what would we do? Do we treat it just like a computer, or would we treat it like that friend we have in another city, state, or country?
Her is a film that tips the balance on romantic cliches and uber gooey lovey-dovey talk which makes it unbearable in parts if you aren’t romantically inclined to sentimental talk. And even for someone that has seen more bad romantic films more than once it is cringe worthy in parts. It’s like those couples that stare lovingly into one another’s eyes for long periods of time in the park. It’s just a little sickening. Of course there isn’t any staring into one another’s eyes in Her, because she is an operating system and doesn’t have eyes, but there is a lot of talk.
I liked this film, even though it left me feeling uncomfortable, because it makes me question how I use my technology. Do I really consider who I am texting or am I doing it just to have contact with someone in the void? Am I more in love with the idea of someone or am I appreciating them for who they truly are, outside my own crazy imagination. In saying that though, it isn’t a film for everyone and for some it will be unbearable. But isn’t that the way with all films?

The unnecessary and the potential – The Wolverine

The Wolverine - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

The Wolverine – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

The Wolverine (2013)

Director: James Mangold
Writers: Mark Bomback (screenplay), Scott Frank (screenplay)
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima

The Wolverine is the latest instalment for the X-Men film franchise. The Marvel comic book universe of X-Men has come alive on the screen over the last 13 years. There is always some issues in adapting a piece of literature to the screen, and especially so with comics as they come with a plethora of canon and decades of story lines intertwining. The X-Men movie franchise has been somewhat successful in creating its own world on the big screen. There are however issues with this latest instalment.

Wolverine (aka Logan, played by Hugh Jackman) is practically immortal. His immortality comes in handy every now and again but it is more of a burden and a curse than a blessing. The story begins with Wolverine saving a Japanese man in the Nagasaki blast in 1945. In the present day the man he saved, Yashida, is dying and requests that Logan comes to say his final farewells to him before he passes away. Logan travels to Japan to see the man but all is not as it seems. Yashida has been researching Mutants and in particular the adamantium metal that Logan has infused in his skeleton.

The story is interesting and moves along in a swift and compelling pace but it is how the story is formed that is troubling. The saying “sex sells” is put into action in The Wolverine. Jean Grey, Logan’s previous love interest, turns up in his dreams as his conscience, always lying in bed with Logan in a silky night dress. And then there is the granddaughter of Yashida, Mariko (Tao Okamoto), who Logan saves from Japanese mobsters and then falls in love with as they escape from danger and work out how to stop the evil guys. If the story was more fully developed then these two love affairs, one in the past that Logan still holds on to and the new one he is trying to move on to, could have made more sense. But the lack of time spent and clarity of the underlying ideas behind these relationships was disappointing. Instead Wolverine comes out looking like he is only using Mariko to get over Jean. This, I am told by a dedicated fan of the comics, is not what it is meant to be. Yes, I understand that the relationship between Logan and Jean needed resolving but to throw Mariko into the picture without being clear on Logan’s emotional progression creates flaws in the fabric of this, otherwise good, comic book film.

There are some great female characters in Yukio and Viper, as well as Mariko. They provide some balance to the overload of male ninjas in the film and are spectacularly cast, especially with Rila Fukushima as Yukio and her execution of the line “I am you’re bodyguard” to Logan. Nice touch Mark Bomback and Scott Frank.

All in all, The Wolverine is steady-footed film that helps progress Logan’s story to a place where X-Men: Days of Future Past (due out 2014) can really expand upon Logan/Wolverine’s role in the X-Men franchise.

3/5

Adapt and Make New – Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Much Ado – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Much Ado About Nothing (2013)

Director: Joss Whedon
Writers: Joss Whedon (screenplay) and William Shakespeare (play)
Stars: Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Fran Kranz, Clark Gregg, Jillian Morgese.

There is something about Shakespeare’s comedies that make for good adaptations. 10 Things I Hate About You, She’s The Man, O, The Lion King, etc, have all taken on new looks of Shakespeare’s plays. And then there is the cinematic versions of the plays such as Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1999), Othello (1995) etc. A good adaptation can be one that is true to the original text, or one that develops the ideas and narrative into a new setting. Joss Whedon has done both with his version of Much Ado About Nothing.

The film opens with a single piano note. A note that tells the audience that love is a thing that will cause both joy and sadness. It is with this simple note that the entire mood is set for the film. The film is shown in black and white, preparing the audience to see the blurred lines of grey in all the lies the characters tell one another, whether for good or for evil. And with the opening scene of Beatrice and Benedict as lovers you know you are in for an interesting take on Shakespeare’s tale of love, deception, rumours, and purity.

The best thing about this adaptation is Joss Whedon and the cast’s comedic timing. Much Ado is meant to be funny. It is a battle of wits between Benedict and Beatrice but here you see so much more of the comedy as played by all the characters. From little moments like Leonato (Clark Gregg) falling asleep/hung over in the kitchen and then being knocked awake and into speech, or Borachio (Spencer Treat Clark) standing creepily at the end of Don John’s bed. The comedy in this film is exceptional.

The way the film is shot is really interesting because of the different camera angles. The shots looking down from heights to where the characters are creates a voyeuristic feel. The audience is another member of the party and is privy to closed door conversations and monologues of characters. It feels very much like an amphitheatre at points, providing the film with visual cues back to the original play.

There are just some films that grab you from the first moment and don’t let you go until the credits roll. Much Ado held me through the laughter and the tears and made me want to revisit Shakespeare with a new passion. This film will make you laugh; it will make you question how you talk of others; it will make you question why you listen to rumours; and above all it will make you want to fall in love with innocence and joy.

5/5

The Literary Genre of TV Land – Wallander

Wallander - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Wallander – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Wallander (2008, 2010)

Stars: Kenneth Branagh, Sarah Smart and Richard McCabe
Series Writing credits: Richard Cottan (6 episodes, 2008-2010), Henning Mankell (6 episodes, 2008-2010), Peter Harness (3 episodes, 2012). Based on Henry Mankell’s novels.

I love my crime thriller TV shows more than most. There is something that compels me to watch them. From my adolescent times I loved CSI and for a while wanted to be a forensic scientist, then I discovered I hated chemistry and because that was a major component of being a forensic scientist I decided it wasn’t for me. The investigation and the intrigue that comes with crime shows is something I love because it is narrative driven. However when it comes to a show like Wallander there is something primarily different about it. The pace, the setting, the characters, the stories, and the audience it attracts is very different from your usual CSI, NCIS, and Law&Order audience members. It is much more character driven than other crime shows and it is for this reason that it has become a new favourite for me. That and Tom Hiddleston is in it. He is the reason I started watching it. I may be a little obsessed but don’t let that bias my opinion of the show because disappointedly he is only a minor character in the show and so it isn’t the reason I kept watching.

This show follows the man Wallander (Kenneth Branagh) as he is confronted with the harsh reality of murder and the emotional damage that being around crime can have on a detective. It shows a different aspect of a detective as he continues to investigate these murders, it shows the character’s moral dilemma and the weight that is placed on the detectives as they try and make sense of the irrationality of murder. Kenneth Branagh’s portrayal of Kurt Wallander is full of theatrical depth that you expect from a thespian of his caliber but the most interesting this about this casting is that his performance is almost entirely held in his expressions. Wallander is a man of few words, he is closed off, cold, and tormented by his vocation and Branagh is able to convey the complexity of this character in a single eye flicker or the way he holds his body as he approaches a crime scene. Wallander is a man that is confronted with the most horrific of human behaviours and struggles to deal with the trauma of these circumstances. Branagh grabs you and takes you with him as he explores the world of Wallander and pulls you in as he becomes more emotionally and mentally drained by these cases.

The pace of this show is one of the surprising things I found in watching it. It is slow and quiet. The atmosphere is dense and weighty and it feels all encompassing as you sit and watch these characters and stories unfold. It is definitely not a style that most people would enjoy and I would compare it to a popular fiction reader attempting to read literary fiction for the first time. It is heavy going and it does take a while to get into it. There are particular moments in each episode where if I hadn’t felt compelled to find Tom Hiddleston in the first episode that I may have switched off, but once you meet Kurt Wallander and get to know him a little bit more you can’t help but keep watching. The stories are particularly dark and complex but also truly intriguing. I have really fell in love with the characters in Wallander and the stories that connect them together. It shows the real pace of investigation and the humanity that lies behind both the criminal acts and the justice provided, as well the haunting of those detectives who are faced with the horrific. It is moving and beautiful at the same time and I have felt connected to these characters more than I usually do in tv shows. They feel real, they feel like they could be out there in the world, they feel true. It is a look at the darkness that underpins the evil in this world and the grief that is carried through the acts of violence that police have to deal with. This is a beautiful and tragic look at investigation of crime.

Icky and Delightful – What To Expect When You’re Expecting

What To Expect When You're Expecting - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Official Poster – from IMDB.com

What To Expect When You’re Expecting (2012)

Director: Kirk Jones
Writers: Shauna Cross (screenplay), Heather Hach (screenplay), and Heidi Murkoff (books)
Stars: Cameron Diaz, Matthew Morrison and J. Todd Smith

Pregnancy is one of those both wonderful and icky topics of life. It is wonderful because it means new life has been created, but icky because when you think about it, it means you’re parents have had sex, probably a lot of it too. And that thought is just well, disturbing for most. But when the movies portray pregnancy as just the simply wonderful then you miss the icky. This film shows the diversity of people’s experiences in pregnancy. It shows the ups and downs of having a baby and the ways you can get pregnant or have a kid. The best thing about this film though is Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games, 30 Rock). She is the thing that makes this film work for me. Of course the wonderful different stories intertwining are great and the stories from miscarriage to adoption to twins is delightful but Banks portrayal of a pregnant woman is exactly what I expect myself to be like when/if I have kids, except probably with a little more crazy. She plays the part of a struggling pregnant woman so well and I love it. Yes pregnancy isn’t always a struggle but it’s nice to see someone fall apart and for it to be okay. There are just so many moments when I belly laughed at one liners between Banks’ character Wendy and her shop assistant Janice (Rebel Wilson). There is something honest and real about the crazy world of pregnancy that Wendy lives in that is truly humourous.

The other part of this film that really shone out was the Dad’s group. The slo-mo entrance of the dad’s at the beginning and end made me laugh so much, mainly just because of the kid, Jordan, who was just adorable and slightly bizarre. It made me want to be a dad but it also made sense to me to see these dad’s complain about every little annoyance when they are with the guys because where else can they do that kind of thing but the reality is that they love their kids more than anything and there is a real beauty and honour in that simple fact. Yes dad’s get all the crap thrown at them because the woman pushed the kid out of their body, and yes they probably should take the crap, but they are also very much in their own rights to have a safe space where they can do what the women do when they get together: bitch and whine about how annoying their kids are. Of course this is what I imagine happens when mothers get together but please correct me if I’ve been lead to believe.

The humour, the love, the bellies, and the sweet moments of this film made me really smile at the end. It was a really enjoyable and fun movie to watch. It’s not the greatest film ever made, and it’s not the best romantic comedy out there but it is fun and funny and it’s a great film to see with some friends.

Imagination Reborn – Hugo

Hugo - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Hugo – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Hugo (2011)

Director: Martin Scorsese
Writers: John Logan (screenplay), Brian Selznick (book)
Stars: Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz and Christopher Lee

I had heard very mixed reports of Hugo before I went to see it. It was a Martin Scorsese film, which meant it was going to look stunning, and it didn’t fail to do that. But the way it was advertised was as an adventure film. Now in our modern era, when we think adventure we think action-film-adventure, not little-children’s-imagination-adventure, and that is where I think they went wrong with their advertising. Hugo is so much more than an action film, in fact it’s not that at all. It’s a story of discovery, of family, and of childhood. Brian Selznick’s storybook is a beautifully crafted story and it is about a boy who lives without a family, discovers a new kind of family, and helps an old man to realise his importance in the world. Selznick’s gorgeous story and Scorsese’s cinematic brilliance really give this film a delightful childish wonder. I really wish that more people had seen this film because there is something truly wonderful about escaping into France with this little boy and seeing the world through his eyes.

There is a simple truth to the idea that children nowadays have lost their imagination and that it has been replaced by technologies, video games, and television. Imaginary worlds have been created for them and they no longer know how to play and imagine for themselves. But I know that this isn’t all true in that children still know how to create, play, and explore, maybe they just need more encouragement to do so and more time given in the day to do so. Hugo Cabret is a boy who inspires me to play more, to explore the world and all it’s twists and turns, and to meet old men and women who have a billion stories to tell and who can inspire a new way of seeing the world.

Worst Titled Action Film Ever – John Carter

John Carter - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

John Carter – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

John Carter (2011)

Director: Andrew Stanton
Writers: Andrew Stanton (screenplay), Mark Andrews (screenplay), Michael Chabon (screenplay), and Edgar Rice Burroughs (story “A Princess of Mars”)
Stars: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins and Willem Dafoe

Yes yes, I know, it wasn’t the greatest action film ever. For anyone who hasn’t seen it John Carter is a little bit of everything. Indiana Jones meets Stargate meets Star Wars (Phantom Menace style rather than Return of the Jedi unfortunately) meets Thor meets Gladiator. Did Disney decide it wanted to make a movie that had every possible reference to a cult action film in the history of action film? Because I think they succeeded in doing that, but failed in providing a good script to do so. The storytelling did not seem to be the main focus of this film rather it tried to get all the special effects right, and in that it did pretty well. The creatures were brilliant, the landscape beautiful, and the action scenes were good enough, but I am sad to say that it just didn’t hold up in the storytelling department. Also why call a film “John Carter”, seriously championing the race to worst titled action film ever award. The acting by Taylor Kitsch was okay, but I just wasn’t sold by him, I’m sure they could’ve found a better fit for the John Carter role, although he may not have been my type – I just wanted him to get his hair off his face most of the time, but maybe that was a hair & make up error rather than the actor in particular. I wanted to be on his side but I was more going for the heroines of the film than any of the male characters. Lynn Collins’ Dejah Thoris character was much more compelling and I kind of wanted the film to revolve around her rather than John Carter.

In saying all that, I could go on about the other negatives, I have to say I quite enjoyed the ridiculousness of this film. It was fun and silly and exciting and I did eventually get drawn in by the characters and the story (mainly because I just gave up trying to wish it to be a better film and just started enjoying it) and I came out of the cinema feeling satisfied that it was just a fun film, as terrible as it was.

I know I can be quite generous with films and my critiques aren’t the most in depth but sometimes films are just meant to be enjoyed, as silly as they are. I mean if you look at the Star Wars franchise you can see that George Lucas may not be the best storyteller/script writer known to man, but gosh he makes exciting films that will forever be immortalised into film history as films that changed cinema forever. John Carter won’t ever be up on that same scale, but it’s nice sometimes just to watch a bad film for entertainment purposes and to get lost in the world that the filmmakers have tried to create.