After the rather lacklustre teen-dystopia adventure The Maze Runner, the action continues in this equally gimmicky sequel. It's the middle episode in novelist James Dashner's trilogy, so it lacks a proper narrative structure, building through a series of action sequences that put our heroes into jeopardy. But the film never develops any suspense because writer T.S. Nowlin and director Wes Ball never bother to properly develop the characters or find an original approach to the action.
After escaping from the Maze, Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) and his friends (including Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Ki Hong Lee and Dexter Darden) find themselves in the Scorch, a wasteland created by some sort of environmental catastrophe. They're rescued by Janson (Aidan Gillen) and taken into a sort of halfway house for lost teens, where Thomas meets Aris (Jacob Lofland), a loner who knows something nefarious is going on. Sure enough, the monolithic corporation WCKD, run by Ava (Patricia Clarkson), is using these kids because they are immune to the disease that's turning people into Cranks who maraud across the landscape. To avoid this fate, Thomas and crew plot an escape, fleeing into a devastated city, where they meet Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito) and feisty teen Brenda (Rosa Salazar). Pursued by WCKD, they travel on into the mountains in search of a safe haven.
Yes, this has essentially become a zombie thriller now, as the Cranks chase the kids even more relentlessly than Janson and WCKD do. The problem is that everything about this film feels familiar, from crowds of The Walking Dead to The Day After Tomorrow's abandoned shopping mall to Transformers 3's tilting skyscraper. As with the first film, the dialogue overflows with corny mythology in which everything given an ominous, cool-sounding name. It's all so constructed that it sounds utterly artificial. And the derivative action sequences are directed without even a hint of realism.
Continue reading: The Scorch Trials Review
After setting the scene with vivid characters and some insightful interaction, the plot of this teen comedy-drama feels like a let down. It's an inventive twist on the usual high school movie, and it has a darkly realistic tone, but where the story goes is rather pushy and melodramatic, straining for a sentimental surge of emotion. It's very well made, and the cast is excellent, but the film is ultimately rather forgettable.
It's set in small-town Florida, where 18-year-old Quentin (Nat Wolff) is trying to focus on graduating and heading to university. He has had a crush on his neighbour Margot (Cara Delevingne) since they were children, but they've drifted apart as she fell in with the rebellious kids. Then one night she appears asking for his help to get even with her cheating boyfriend (Griffin Freeman), giving Quentin the night of his life as they stage a series of pranks. The next day Margot vanishes, leaving enigmatic clues about where she's gone. So Quentin enlists his pals Ben and Radar (Austin Abrams and Justice Smith) to help him find her, and they end up taking a road trip with Margot's best pal Lacey (Halston Sage) and Radar's girlfriend Angela (Jaz Sinclair), following her trail to a blip on a map of rural New York.
The title refers to fictional towns cartographers put on maps to alert them to plagiarists, a metaphor that never quite rings true but adds to the overall mystery. More interesting is the way the story puts a fresh spin on the usual teen-movie themes: peer pressure, wild parties, loss of virginity, the prom, plans for the future. These things are grappled with using a superb mix of humour and angst, giving the cast some very strong scenes along the way. Wolff anchors the film as a late-bloomer who's only just discovering himself, and Delevingne brings a wild allure to her role, even though everything Margot does feels somewhat contrived, which makes her feel like a romanticised memory.
Continue reading: Paper Towns Review
There's nothing particularly original or insightful to set this teen-dystopia thriller apart from the crowd, but strong characters will build some anticipation for the next instalment in the franchise. Unusually for the genre, the film also has a remarkably masculine tone, centring on boyish jostling for control while leaving the women in just two small-but-pivotal roles. On the other hand, it's to thinly plotted that it's pretty forgettable.
The story opens in a scene of disorientation, as teen Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) emerges into the Glade, unable to remember anything about himself or his past. He's the monthly arrival to a community of boys anchored by Alby (Aml Ameen) and the runners who dash into the maze beyond the four tall walls that close in their isolated world. But the maze is full of dangers, and paranoid leader Gally (Will Poulter) thinks Thomas is jeopardising the status quo with his curiosity, bravery and desire to get out. As divisions appear in the community, the game itself seems to be changing as monsters called grievers become more aggressive. Thomas finds allies in Gally's second-in-command Newt (Brodie-Sangster), the lead runner Minho (Ki Hong Lee) and cheery youngster Chuck (Blake Cooper). Then a girl (Kaya Scodelario) arrives carrying a note that says, "She is the last one EVER." And now everyone knows that nothing will be the same again.
Essentially this is Lord of the Flies with the nasty bits taken out, as these boys create a relatively peaceful society until Thomas' arrival signals an apocalypse within the post-apocalypse. Through it all, Thomas has dreams revealing snippets of information about what's really going on here and who's pulling the strings (the fabulous Patricia Clarkson). Meanwhile, he has to learn the mythology of the Glade, which is carefully explained in painfully obvious dialogue ("That's what we call 'the changing'").
Continue reading: The Maze Runner Review
Based on the beloved novel by John Green, this film is so squarely slanted toward teen girls that it is likely to annoy everyone else. Written and directed in a way that never allows even a hint of ambiguity, each scene and line of dialogue is on-the-nose, pushing the audience to a specific emotional response. This of course leaves everything feeling manipulative and false. Even so, the movie is rescued by another wonderfully layered performance from Shailene Woodley.
She plays the 17-year-old Hazel, who has been dealing with aggressive cancer for three years and has only just been stabilised by a breakthrough treatment. As she still needs to carry oxygen to breathe properly, her parents (Laura Dern and Sam Trammell) are understandably protective, but she's happy to get out on her own whenever possible. Then in a support group she meets 18-year-old cancer survivor Gus (Ansel Elgort), who is immediately smitten with her and flirts so aggressively that she finally agrees to be his friend, but nothing more. As she hangs out with Gus and his pal Isaac (Nat Wolff), another cancer patient, she begins to open up to her innermost dreams. So she goes along with a make-a-wish plan to travel to Amsterdam with Gus and her mother to meet the author (Willem Dafoe) of her favourite novel. And the trip changes her life in several unexpected ways.
Sensitive audience members will be sobbing from the beginning to the end of this film, simply because director Josh Boone tells them to. More cynical viewers will find it impossible to believe anything on-screen. This isn't because the plot is bad (it's actually quite thoughtful and provocative) or the actors get their performances wrong. It's because Boone and the screenwriters can't resist punching every note as loudly as they can. It's been so tidily shaped into a cinematic structure that everything feels fake, which makes it impossible for the actors to create characters who could exist anywhere besides in a movie.
Continue reading: The Fault In Our Stars Review
Nicholas Sparks strikes again with yet another film based on a misty-eyed novel about tormented seaside romance in the romanticised American South. It's so trapped in Sparks' cliche-ridden universe that we know the entire plot right from the start, including expectations of a maudlin, possibly supernatural twist along the way and an over-sentimental climax. Fans of this sort of thing will love it, but everyone else will struggle to see it as anything more than simplistic rubbish.
The woman in peril this time is Katie (Hough), who is introduced while on the run, dying her hair blonde and jumping on a midnight bus out of Boston. When she arrives in a picture-postcard North Carolina fishing town, she takes one look at hunky shopkeeper Alex (Duhamel) and decides to stay. Not only is he handy with home repairs, but he has two smart, observant young children (Kirkland and Lomax) he's raising on his own. Even Katie's new neighbour (Smulders) thinks she should grab him while he's single. But she is of course running from something, and a tenacious cop Kevin (Lyons) on her trail.
In every movie based on a Sparks novel, we know exactly who is good and evil from the start. Sure enough, Kevin is clearly bad because he drinks vodka and is accompanied by menacing music every time we seen him. We also know there will be a surprise along the way, something that stretches the already fragile story logic beyond the breaking point. And in this film, it's also something cunningly designed to wrench tears from sensitive audience members. But everyone else in the audience will laugh at how inane it all is, bravely resisting the manipulative storytelling all the way to the happiest possible ending.
Continue reading: Safe Haven Review
With a flurry of bonkers action and cross-species bonding, The Twilight Saga surges to a howling conclusion that has more attitude in it than all four previous films put together. There's no time for moping now, as things build to a crescendo of girly emotion, portentous pronouncements and more decapitations than you can count. Even the plot itself gets rather playful.
We pick things up immediately after Part 1 ended: Bella (Kristen) is getting used to her heightened vampire senses and intense lovemaking prowess with her new husband Edward (Pattinson), while their daughter Renesmee (Foy) ages alarmingly from infancy to about 10 in just a few weeks, overseen by soulmate-protector wolf-boy Jacob (Lautner). But the ruling Volturi boss (Sheen) has been misinformed that Renesmee is a feared immortal child, rather than a rare but apparently harmless human-vampire hybrid. As the Volturi army heads to Seattle to obliterate Edward and the Cullen clan (including Facinelli, Reaser, Greene and Lutz), the Cullens draft in an army of their own from around the world.
Essentially the film is a long build-up to a big showdown, as everyone jostles for position. This makes the film feel much pacier than the earlier chapters, as we jump from scene to scene while the Cullens prepare for the onslaught. Many scenes involve the introduction of the vampires who support their effort, and like X-men many have some sort of supernatural ability that can aid the fight. Thankfully, director Condon refuses to take this nonsense seriously, and has quite a lot of fun with the various story elements. He also gleefully ramps up the tetchy interaction between Jacob and Edward, and even makes a joke about the fact that actors playing vampires must wear red contact lenses.
Continue reading: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 Review
After an idyllic woodland wedding and Brazilian-island honeymoon, Bella (Stewart) finds herself unexpectedly pregnant by her new vampire husband Edward (Pattinson). But what's growing inside her? Edward's family closes ranks to take care of her fast-growing foetus, watched over by her wolf-pal Jacob (Lautner). The problem is that if Bella dies, as seems likely since the baby is sucking the life from her, the tenuous treaty between vampires and werewolves will be broken, leading to all-out war. This of course puts Jacob in a tricky position.
Continue reading: Breaking Dawn: Part 1 Review
Even though they're now pledged to be together forever, Bella (Stewart) and her dreamy vampire boyfriend Edward (Pattinson) are stuck in a gloomy funk. Not only does she have lingering feelings for Edward's mortal enemy, the hard-bodied werewolf Jacob (Lautner), but vengeful vampire Victoria (Howard) is still after her. Meanwhile, an army of young-blood vampires is building in nearby Seattle, mobilised by the hot-headed Riley (Samuel). And a Vulpari delegation, led by pain-monger Jane (Fanning) is on its way to clean up the mess.
Continue reading: The Twilight Saga: Eclipse Review
Just as Bella (Stewart) turns 18 and begins her senior year in high school, her beloved Edward (Pattinson) decides he has to leave town for her safety. In a deep funk, she eventually turns to neighbour Jacob (Lautner) for company, but their friendship takes a twist when he starts getting hunky and tetchy and hanging out with gang-leader Sam (Spencer). But it's not steroids; the gang members are actually werewolves, locked in mortal combat with vampires. And she needs (and wants) to keep both Edward and Jacob in her life.
Continue reading: The Twilight Saga: New Moon Review
I could have written a similar book (though perhaps not when I was fifteen) but I never guessed that the Tolkien estate and Lucasfilm would have given permission to use all of their ideas. As one of Paolini's characters says, forgiveness is easier than permission, and everyone seems to have forgiven Paolini (up to a point -- we''ll see how well the movie does). That's good, because every major plot point in Eragon is ripped off from The Lord of the Rings or the Star Wars series (with occasional ripoffs, probably subconscious, from other sources, like The Wizard of Oz). In fact, Eragon is so derivative it's surprising that it even got published. Or it would be, if publishing houses still had standards.
Continue reading: Eragon Review
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