Movie review: Maze Runner: The Death Cure

Movie reviews

Hello!

The last of the YA dystopias is coming to an end. This is Maze Runner: The Death Cure.

IMDb summary: Young hero Thomas embarks on a mission to find a cure for a deadly disease known as the “Flare”.

Writing

The Death Cure was written by T.S. Nowlin (the writer of the two previous pictures in this series and the upcoming Pacific Rim: Uprising film), based on the book of the same name by James Dashner. I’ve read the original trilogy more than 5 years ago now, so I hardly remember its plot details (I might have remembered a bit more a year ago, when this film was supposed to come out but, as it was pushed back due to Dylan O’Brien’s injury on set, I’m now more in the dark than I’ve ever was). However, this movie franchise has gone so far off the books (especially in the second film) that my background of having read and not remembering the book hardly impacts the motion picture watching experience. Having said that, I did recount two major things from the last book that managed to stay with for 5+ years and both of these developments were preserved in the film. I was quite upset that the filmmakers kept the first thing (from the selfish fan perspective) but quite glad that they retained the second one (from an objective-ish reviewer perspective). Let me elaborate. Also: SPOILERS!

The first thing I had in my mind was the death of probably my favorite character from the series – Newt. I distinctly remember being very sad after finishing the book and hoping that, when this novel will finally reach the big screen, Newt will be allowed to live. However, I’m not surprised that the screenwriter kept such an ending for one of the main character’s, as his final scene was pretty emotional and made for a great and powerful moment on screen. His nickname for Thomas – Tommy – was heartbreakingly sweet too. The second development that I’ve mentioned as having liked from a more objective point of view was the movie’s (and the book’s) ultimate ending. The film ended with all the surviving characters living on an island (a more realistic version of the safe haven from the books. In the original novels, a portal had to be taken to reach safety rather than just a boat). I’m glad that the screenwriters didn’t change the ending into fairytale/happy one but kept it ambiguous: what will Thomas do with HIS gift? In addition, I feel like a happy ending (like a sequence of the cure being spread to everyone) would have undercut all the losses that the surviving characters had to go through.

Now, having explored some of the narrative details, let’s look at some themes. One of the major topics of discussion for the film was memory (and my musings about remembering or forgetting certain details of the plot somehow feel more appropriate). Another big concept for this series has always been friendship, which was on display here once more (Thomas, Newt, and Minho are one of my favorite trios in YA fiction). The shades of the love triangle (Thomas, Teresa, Brenda) were present too, though, they weren’t on display that much.

My few slight criticism towards the writing were mainly just two and both of them had to do with the antagonists of the series. For one, I have never fully understood the hierarchy within the WCKD. In this film, Ava Paige had to ask somebody else for the permission to start the human trials of the cure as if they haven’t been experimenting on humans for years already to get the vaccine in the first place?! Also, I’m still not entirely sure whether I buy Teresa’s shifting allegiances or it might be that I just don’t understand her character and the scale she uses to judge what is right on.

 

 

Directing

Wes Ball directed The Death Cure (he also did The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials) and did quite an amazing job, especially with only around $60 million budget. The last entry into the franchise was highly action-packed. The said action was also quite varied: the film had a variety of sets (all brown and broken but still cool looking) and a ton of CGI that looked quite good (I’ve seen movies that cost double what this one did and looked four times worse (*cough, cough*, Geostorm). The focus on the action in this film also allowed this series to finally differentiate itself from the other YA dystopias, mainly The Hunger Games. While THG finished off as more of a political thriller, TMR series seems to have always been more about the spectacle and only then about the ideas. The ideas – the attempt to go the political thriller route with the cure only being meant for the privileged – were present but they did feel like an afterthought. The Maze Runner series should not have tried to shy away from its action roots, as these sequences were the best ones in the movie. Having said that, the characters had to break into The Capitol-like city in this film, so maybe these two series aren’t that different after all. I wonder how the Divergent/Allegiant situation is going on? That series probably won’t end ever.

Anyways, the fact that this movie had a lot of action, also helped it with the pace, which was quite fast. The only dip came in the second act, however, the first and the third acts were rapid and intense.  My only critique of the action sequences was that, at times, they were filmed with a bit too much of the shaky cam. Nevertheless, those moments were far and few in between, while the majority of the action was captured by a handheld but steady enough camera, while the mobile frame helped with the intensity. I also loved how the action scenes in the first act (the maze and the grievers; the cranks) were used as a slight reminder of what happened in the previous pictures. Lastly, how nice was it that they the filmmakers (and the suits) didn’t divide the finale of the trilogy into two parts!

Acting

The Death Cure saw the return of all the favorites. Dylan O’BrienThomas Brodie-Sangster, and Ki Hong Lee were all great as my favorite trio: Thomas, Newt, and Minho, respectively. I only wish that they would have shared more scenes together. O’Brien’s TV show – Teen Wolf – has ended last year but he has been steadily racking up movie roles (in this series, Deepwater Horizon, and American Assasin) and seems to be fairing much better than the actual lead of his TV show – Tyler Posey. I really hope that the relative financial success of this franchise will allow Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Ki Hong Lee to be cast in more projects too.

Will Poulter (The Revenant, Detroit) also returned as Gally, while Dexter Darden had some neat moments (operating a crane) as FrypanKaya Scodelario (Pirates 5) was okay as Teresa, while Giancarlo Esposito’s (OkjaJorge and Rosa Salazar’s Brenda were neat to watch in their father-daughter-like relationship. On the villain side, Patricia Clarkson (The Party) was still immaculately dressed in white as Ava Paige, while Littlefinger – Aidan Gillen (Sing Street) as Janson – was doing his thing as usual. Another GOT family member (who also stars in Fast&Furious franchise) Nathalie Emmanuel (as Harriet), as well as ShadowhuntersKatherine McNamara (as Sonya), appeared too, although the film didn’t really know what to do with them, after having introduced them in The Scorch Trials as members from a different maze/test group.

In short, Maze Runner: The Death Cure was an entertaining finale to the, overall, surprisingly strong YA franchise, that pleased my heart and mind. And this praise comes from somebody who was once the biggest fan of the book and this genre in general.

Rate: 3.8/5

Trailer: Maze Runner: The Death Cure trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Money Monster

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of one the smaller and more serious films of the summer – Money Monster.

IMDb summary: Financial TV host Lee Gates and his producer Patty are put in an extreme situation when an irate investor takes over their studio.

  1. Money Monter was written by a TV writer Alan Di Fiore, Jim Kouf, who has written a lot of independent films and Dear John’s writer Jamie Linden. This diverse group of screenwriters has crafted a really interesting narrative, full of amazing and intense dialogue. The story was simple enough to understand for those who don’t know anything about economics (me) and yet still complex, intense and exciting. The comic relief and the jokes were organic and not forced. The themes: ‘value of the human life’ (refusing to help Clooney by not buying the stocks), ‘the broken capitalism’ (‘business is just business’) and ‘life goes on’ (shot of the table football) were also interesting. The plot seemed to be of a very small scale,  but in truth, the overarching story was much bigger and broader. At the end of the film, it seemed that the notion that ‘the rich can get away with anything’ will be proved once again, but the inclusion of the online backlash really subverted this notion and made the movie more connected to the contemporary world.
  2. The film was directed by Jodie Foster, who went the Elizabeth Banks route – from acting to directing. But, to be fair, Foster started directing TV shows and movies way earlier than Banks – back in the 90s. However, then she took a couple of decades break from directing and only started getting behind the camera in the 2010s. She did a great job with Money Monster: the stakes felt high, the pace was fast and the visuals – colorful and unique. I also enjoyed the small time frame – the movies plot started and was resolved in a single day. In general, the film was well-constructed and a solid economic thriller – it actually felt like an action movie but made with dialogue instead of explosions. The end credits song – What Makes the World Go ‘Round (MONEY!) – was also really appropriate and a neat way to finish the film.
  3. I also really enjoyed seeing the behind the scenes or the production side of a TV program. I would like to be a producer or even a director one day and Money Monster showed how the professionals deal with difficult situations.
  4. Money Monster also had a great cast, full of accomplished actors: George Clooney (Hail, Caesar!, Tomorrowland), Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell (Unbroken), Dominic West (Testament of Youth), Caitriona BalfeChristopher Denham, and Giancarlo Esposito (The Maze Runner). All of the actors performed their lines really well, especially Clooney, Roberts and O’Connell. O’Connell’s character acted believably desperate and Clooney’s and Robert’s snappy back-and-forth bickering was one of the best parts of the picture. The way Clooney’s character was trying to talk himself out of the situation was also pretty nice.
  5. If you  enjoyed Money Monster, a few films that I’d like to recommend are The Big Short – a really funny economic drama and The Ides of March – a political thriller, starring and directed by Clooney.

In short, Money Monster was interesting, intense, complex but easily understandable economic drama. The performances, as well as the directing, were both solid but the film’s writing was the best part of it.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Money Monster trailer

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Movie review: The Jungle Book

Movie reviews

Hello!

A few weeks ago, the first live-action fairytale reached theaters (The Huntsman: Winter’s War). Now, let’s talk about this summer movie season’s second feature of this genre – The Jungle Book!

IMDb summary: The man-cub Mowgli flees the jungle after a threat from the tiger Shere Khan. Guided by Bagheera the panther and the bear Baloo, Mowgli embarks on a journey of self-discovery, though he also meets creatures who don’t have his best interests at heart.

Adaptation from animation

2016’s live action film is an adaptation of the 1967 animated feature, so, in preparation for this year’s film, I revisited the old animated classic. I concluded this: the 2D animation is still beautiful while the story and the premise remain timeless – I mean, who doesn’t like cute talking and singing animals? My favorite moments from the original film are all the elephant sequences (‘an elephant never forgets‘) and, of course, the iconic song – The Bare Necessities. The_Jungle_Book_poster

The character of Mowgli has originally been created by the author Rudyard Kipling in the 19th century. While I don’t remember reading any of his stories as a child, I do recall the times when I used to play a Mowgli video game. I was never much of a gamer and never really had the latest technology to play the games on, but I distinctly remember playing some kind of Mowgli game – I think you had to jump and pick up bananas or something. It was the early 2000s, so the games weren’t as advanced as they are now.

2016’s The Jungle Book is not the first, neither the last time that Hollywood is remaking the original animated picture into a live action feature. Back in 1994, Disney made a live-action version of the story with Jason Scott Lee as Mowgli. In 2018, Andy Serkis (Planet of the Apes) will finally release his Jungle Book film – that movie has been pushed back numerous times and will serve as a full directorial debut for Serkis. 2018’s film will also feature a star-studded cast, who will motion capture and voice the animals . However, the 2016’s version also has a bunch of big names, headlining the movie.

SPOILER ALERT

Writing

The Jungle Book’s screenplay was written by Justin Marks. Marks doesn’t have any big writing credits on his IMDb page. Nevertheless, he did a really nice job with the story.

To begin with, I don’t think that they changed the original story of the animated picture that much (except the very ending) – they only expanded on it a.k.a. added more details. For example, we found out that elephants were the ones who ‘created’ the jungle. The viewers were also introduced to the ideas of truce at the peace rock during the dry season and the Laws of the jungle. Shere Khan also appeared more consistently throughout the film, instead of just showing up at the end. His plan to get Mowgli to come to him was also a nice addition. Moreover, Mowgli’s parent’s backstory, which involved Shere Khan, added more depth to the characters and made the story more logical. The role of the ‘mother’ wolf was also expanded. The only gripe that I had about the narrative of the film was the question why some animals could talk while others could not.

The human village in the film also had a more prominent role – Mowgli got the fire from that village instead of getting it from the lighting, as in the animated picture. This tiny change made the story more sophisticated and more heartfelt. The film also stressed the importance of team-work, although the individual courage was also praised. The ideas of belonging and searching for identity were also explored.

The only big change that the filmmakers made to the plot was the ending  – Mowgli stayed in the jungle, while he usually goes to live in the human village in other versions of the story. However, since this film earned a lot of money during its opening weekend and the critics are loving it as well, Disney will most definitely make a sequel, so they will probably make Mowgli’s move to the human village – the main plotline of the next film.

Directing

The Jungle Book was directed by Jon Favreau. I am most familiar with his work on Marvel Phase 1 films – Iron Man 1 +2. A few years ago, he also wrote, directed and starred in comedy-drama Chef, which I quite enjoyed. I also recently watched one of Favreau’s earliest films – a Christmas comedy Elf (I did not like that film and found it extremely annoying).

Speaking about Favreau’s work on  The Jungle Book – I think he successfully brought this classic story to life, for a new generation. The film had more action than the original animated feature and the whole plot was very high energy, starting with the opening chase/run. In addition, the visuals of the scenery, as well as the realistic look of the animals, were both amazing – I was extremely impressed with the CGI. My favorite scenic sequences were the sped-up montage of the dry season and the falling waterfalls. All of the animals looked amazing, but I especially liked Baloo’s and Raksha’s spiky and soft fur versus Bagheera’s sleek looking fur. The little wolf Grey was also extremely cute. Plus, the design of the snake – Kaa –  was also pretty spectacular. I mean, that python was huge! The fire sequences, both in Kaa’s story and the 3rd act of the film, were great as well. Lastly, the ending – the closing of the book –  was very reminiscent of the original animated picture’s beginning and ending and was a nice nod to this story’s past. The way they used the visuals of the book during the actual end credits was also quite nice and entertaining way to finish the movie.

Music

John C. Debney scored the film. I really loved the fact they include the iconic ‘The Bare Necessities’ song – it fit nicely into the plot of the film. However, the other song from the original animation – ‘I Wan’na Be Like You’  – felt out of place in the live-action movie. Since this remake was not a musical, I think that one song from the original picture would have been enough. Nevertheless, I did like the end credits song – also from the original animated movie – ‘Trust in Me’ as performed by Scarlett Johansson

Acting

Favreau used computer generated imagery rather than the motion capture technology to bring this story to live, so the majority of the cast only did voice work.

  • Bill Murray as Baloo was the funniest character in the film. He was also very smart and cunning (in a good way). I loved his line about the Law of the Jungle: ‘That’s not a song, that’s propaganda!’ – it was quite an adult humor. However, other Baloo’s lines about hibernation (‘I nap…a lot’) were funny to all age groups. Murray did an amazing job with his voice work.
  • Ben Kingsley (Stonehearst Asylum) as Bagheera was the sassiest character. I especially enjoyed his line about bears and work. Kingley’s voice was very appropriate for the character and I also enjoyed listening to his narration at the beginning of the film.
  • Idris Elba (Beasts of no Nation) as Shere Khan was quite scary and furious villain. I didn’t recognize Elba at first, but his voice was very fitting to the character and really brought the tiger to live. Elba will also be voicing one the characters in the upcoming Finding Dory film.
  • Scarlett Johansson (Marvel) as Kaa was also really good. Johansson’s voice was very haunting, thus, fitting to the snake, who can hypnotize people and animals. Johansson is not a newcomer, when it comes to voice acting – she was the voice of the computer in 2013’s Her and will also be voicing one of the characters in this year’s computer-animated musical comedy Sing.
  • Lupita Nyong’o (Star Wars) voiced Raksha and did a great job – her voice was very loving and full of motherly emotions.
  • Giancarlo Esposito (The Scorch Trials) did the voice of Akela, while Christopher Walken (Eddie the Eagle) voiced King Louie – they both did a nice job in a few scenes they had.

The film’s main character was played by a newcomer Neel Sethi. Child actors have been getting better and better every year, so I don’t even think that it is appropriate to call them child actors – they are just actors. I first spotted this change with Jacob Tremblay in Room. Going back to Sethi as Mowgli: he was really really good – he was appropriately annoying yet still likable and funny. He probably spent the majority of his time on set, interacting with fake models and green screens and he still managed to do an amazing job. I wish the brightest future for this young performer.

In short, The Jungle Book was a feel-good film that put a smile on my face. I sincerely think that both adults and kids can enjoy it. It stressed the idea of being yourself no matter where you are by conveying this message through nice dialogue, spectacular visuals and a heartfelt performance of a newcomer lead actor.

Rate: 4.3/5

Trailer: The Jungle Book trailer

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