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The Scorch Trials is the second installment in The Maze Runner series. The story picks up with Thomas (played by Dylan O’Brien) and the other escapees from the Glade trying to find their way in a devastated world. They’re being chased by the organization WCKD that was behind the Maze so they’re unsure of who their allies are. On top of that, there are the infected who are keeping everyone on the run. Not knowing where to turn, the group make their way to a band of rebels they hear about who might be able to find them refuge.
The story in this one is a little more non-linear and disjointed compared to its predecessor. There’s some bait-and-switch left turns that seem pretty obvious and isn’t really anything super compelling in terms of the direction the film goes. I also thought some of the plot points were a little far-fetched such as the doctor who will sacrifice the lives of thousands of children to find a cure for the disease that is zombifying everyone. One of the stranger plot points is that a cure of sorts is found but kind of forgotten about when one of the key characters is killed. It just seemed like there were a lot of moments like that, almost shoe-horned ideas that were wedged in to move things forward.
The pacing and structure of the film seem clunky, like they were figuring out a lot as they went. Some of the performances seem stiff as a result of the construct of the film. Wes Ball directed the film, which I’m sure wasn’t easy given the scope of it, however the direction of the film is what I think one of the main problems is. Overall, this release feels stuck awkwardly in different places where the first film flowed much more smoothly.
The acting for the most part is ok but there aren’t any real standouts here. Everyone feels competent but not passionate. There are some strong actors in the lineup but noone seems to shine. The cast includes Ki Hong Lee, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Patricia Clarkson, Lili Taylor, and Barry Pepper.
The Scorch Trials is an ok film but not the compelling second film you might be hoping for. Hopefully the next film will take it back up a notch…
reviewed by Sean McKnight
From one of my favorite directors, Ridley Scott, The Martian presents the story of a stranded astronaut who gets left on Mars when his crew thinks he’s dead and has to do an emergency evacuation of the planet. Matt Damon plays Mark Watney who needs to use science to survive until a rescue mission can be executed once NASA gets wind of him still being alive. Once again Scott delivers a compelling movie that keeps you hooked from beginning to end…
While Watney is by himself he has to face the notion of starvation, running out of water, in addition to storms that prove to be fatal as well as challenging for the structures he’s living in. As simple as it sounds, Ridley Scott manages to shape a film that can be terrifying and thrilling without monsters or serial killers. Damon’s passionate delivery of the lead role makes the film work as well.
The effects and design are expertly put together. They shot this in a desert somewhere obviously but manage to make it feel like a different planet with subtle nuances to the atheistic of the film through things like color grading and backdrop inserts. The storms feel especially brutal, the kind where you just want to curl up under the covers like when you were a kid just waiting / praying for it to die down, like a scary nemesis stalking your home that won’t leave.
The lineup of the film is impressive with everyone putting in a strong performance. Jessica Chastain plays the head of the astronaut team with a strong, authoritative delivery alongside Chiwetel Ejiofor contributing as the dedicated head of the Mars program at NASA. The whole cast is strong and includes Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Aksel Hennie, and Sebastian Stan.
If you like good, suspenseful sci-fi without aliens bursting out of anyone’s chest, definitely check out The Martian.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
There are remakes and sequels and sometimes films that are both, this is a film that falls in the last category…
Rusty Griswold is back but this time he’s all grown up with a family of his own. Just as obsessed as his father in the original film, Rusty decides to take his wife and kids on the same trip to Wallyworld that he had to endure as a child. Hijinks ensue as said family treks across the country to fulfill their dad’s dream of vacation glory that was lost the first time ‘round with Clark at the steering wheel…
If you’re looking for something original here, you’ll want to look elsewhere; judging the premise and the poster, you’ve probably already figured that out. That’s ok though, this kind of film isn’t meant to surprise, it’s there to entertain. Unfortunately the film’s entertainment value isn’t great. This version plays out just like the original where Rusty and family drive across the country towards the promised land of Wallyworld with many obstacles thrown in their path along the way. The gags are hit and miss with some LOL moments but mostly not. The film feels and comes off much as a retread of the original rather than blazing any trail of its own.
The movie has some talented actors involved, most notably Christina Applegate and Ed Helms. Applegate is great, she’s funny, quick and enjoyable on screen. Helms comes off annoying unfortunately and kind of a dick so there isn’t much sympathy there where Chevy Chase in the original role managed to balance a smarminess with a sense of being pathetic that made him much more endearing. The real standout though is Chris Hemsworth who comes off hilariously in his bit role which you have to see for yourself as I can’t do it justice here. The lineup is rounded out by Leslie Mann, Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Charlie Day, Ron Livingston, Regina Hall, Ron Livingston, Keegan-Michael Key and Norman Reedus. It’s a jam-packed roster to be sure, but it doesn’t help the film enough to pull it out of the mediocre mire it lands in.
I wouldn’t go out of your way to see this one, but you might want to check it out if there’s nothing else on. Ultimately, I would suggest to just watch the original and Christmas Vacation; those two should satisfy all the vacation you’ll really need…
reviewed by Sean McKnight
This movie had a lot of potential – visually it’s stunning, there are some compelling characters, the actors are great, but the direction and the story is where it gets muddy…
The movie is based on true events around an expedition going to the top of Mt. Everest. Upon reaching the summit a storm hits that causes the members of the party to have to scramble down the mountain as quickly as possible. Not all the climbers make it and this film reveals the struggle they went through along the way.
The film sort of / but not really focuses on Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin) whose story is somewhat of the basis for the movie. Ultimately the script revolves around the party mostly and not so much the individuals. That’s part of the problem here, you don’t have any one character to kind of latch on to or identify with making the emotional ties much more loose without a lot of motivation for sympathy. There are moments where the film does lock in on Beck’s character here and there but he’s not super-likable, in fact he’s kind of a dick. Considering he blew off his family’s wishes of not risking his life anymore and then nearly being killed (and losing some fingers and part of his face in the process), it’s hard to feel bad for the guy given his blatant disregard for his wife and kid’s feelings.
The movie starts with an expedition and ends up being more of a rescue story. However, there isn’t much actual rescuing, it’s more a portrayal of the attempts which are heartbreaking with most of them not ending well. So the movie’s a downer instead of being uplifting. I think that’s one of the primary reasons this film tanked, if they had made it uplifting and focused on one of the characters actually making it, the movie may have found its audience. With the tone going sour in the story about 2/3 of the way in, you don’t really feel too great by the time you get to the end of it. Beck’s survival doesn’t seem to be enough to lift this movie out of the mire.
The actors are quite good and there’s some strong performances here. Jason Clarke as the guide named Rob Hall is compelling and powerful, Sam Worthington stood out as did Emily Watson and Keira Knightley. Jake Gyllenhaal and Robin Wright are both very good too. You can tell everyone worked hard on their roles and played them with passion. The shame is that some of those performances get lost in the storyline and don’t get fully explored.
Watchable, but disappointing.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
Jupiter Ascending is the latest sci-fi feature offering from the Wachowski siblings (creators of The Matrix). A self-indulgent mess, this $176M disaster (yep, you read that amont right) tanked badly and for good reasons…
Let’s start with the film’s high points first, visually it’s beautiful. The production design is truly impressive in scope and vision and explains largely why the project’s budget was so outrageously high. The space environments they’ve created along with the ships, costumes and sets have a beautiful, modern extravagance that underpins the problems with this movie. It feels self indulgent, which is part of the point I’m sure given the nature of some of the characters but it also permeates throughout the storyline and some of the performances as well as the direction.
The story is about the 20-30-something-ish Jupiter, who finds herself working with her family as they struggle to make ends meet by cleaning people’s houses and living a very hum-drum life. In the meantime, there are humans living out in the vastness of space that are secretly controlling our fates through their “ownership” of our planets. These humans look down on us regular humans as a sort of livestock to fulfill their desire for immortality. Through the course of the story, it’s discovered that Jupiter is the reincarnation of one these elite humans and that she’s a threat to those in power. Because of who she is, the elites target her for assassination and the plot unfolds.
The story seems to play a secondary priority to the effects. The main plot is very hacky and formulaic, nothing innovative with the main character having things mostly happen to her without much motivated action on her part. She just sort of wanders from one incident to the other controlled by outside forces kind of pushing her along, it makes it hard to sympathize or identify with her. The dialog is by the numbers and feels phoned in most of the time by the talent with a few exceptions here and there. Even Sean Bean seemed like he was just going along for the ride.
And that’s another problem, the performances of the actors seem forced across the board. Channing Tatum plays the part of Caine Wise who is Jupiter’s protector. One of my issues with him was the design of his character. I’m not sure what race he’s supposed to be but he looks like the result of a mating between an elf and a wolf so it’s hard to take him seriously. His performance seemed a bit strained too as did Mila Kunis’ portrayal of the main character. I wonder if they could tell the project was doomed from the start. The only actor really pouring it on was Eddie Redmayne as the main baddie Balem Abrasax. He comes off obnoxiously pretentious, to the point of barely being able to watch him on screen which effected the realism of his portrayal for me. His cartoony overacting turned out to be a distraction.
The Wachowskis wrote and directed and maybe need to go back to the basics of putting a good story first along with strong performances and worry about the effects after that.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
The Trip revolves around Steve Coogan (as himself) who is asked by a magazine to do a restaurant tour around the country and help develop a story around the experience. Coogan plans to bring his girlfriend right about the time she decides it’s time for them to take a “break” so he enlists the help of his friend Rob. Unfortunately for Steve, Rob tends to drive Steve nuts after awhile which of course sets the duo up for an interesting road trip…
Much of the film is based around the ongoing conversation that the 2 companions have while they’re traveling along the route of their journey. The humor is very dry and witty so if you’re looking for slapstick silliness or crude dick jokes, you’ll be disappointed. Given the nature of the humor, there were times I laughed out loud and other moments where I was bored out of my mind. The story seems to be told somewhat in an improv-style of delivery while still containing scripted plot-points. Overall I found the story interesting but at times very self indulgent as well. Rob’s friend Steve is also a well-known talent and is known for his impressions. Some of the impression riffing the actors do is a blast, especially their dialog acting like Michael Caine, Billy Connelly and Sean Connery. The problem is, the gag wears thin after awhile and starts to get annoying instead of entertaining.
That’s my primary complaint about the film – there are numerous elements that are kind of beaten into the ground through repetition which makes them lose their charm from when they’re first introduced. Coogan’s womanizing being one of those elements along with the actors constantly riffing.
One of the more enjoyable aspects of the movie is the scenery. They have a lot of great exterior shots of the landscapes and the towns they travel through along with footage of the amazing food they’re evaluating for their story. Anthony Bourdain would’ve fit right in here given the cuisine and choice of restaurants they visited.
The film ends very abruptly and in a strange way for Coogan as he’s struggling with his love life and family life. I have to admit, I thought the ending was a little sudden and not entirely satisfying. It just felt like something was missing and that they’re needed to be more resolution. Maybe that’s the point though…
If you dig British humor and enjoy good scenery, check out The Trip on Netflix.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
Hollyweird is just cranking out the hero-on-hero violence with the latest superhero fight fest in the form of X-Men: Apocalypse. Incidentally this film ranks third on my list of favorite hero fight movies with Civil War #1, Apocalypse #2, and BvS #4 (I took it down to 4 because it didn’t deserve a number 3).
I’m not sure why this film is being bashed so harshly but I’ll give you my side of it. Ok, it’s not the best film in the series to be sure, but it’s also not nearly as bad as the worst in the series. The worst in the series is X-Men III, hands down, no doubt about it, X-Men III is the worst X-Men movie, ever. Definitely, the third film is the most terrible, awful, X-Men film ever made. Sorry, I had to get that out of my system as I just hate Brett Ratner’s work soooooo much.
Back to X-Men: Apocalypse… It is missing something that the other standout films have but it’s hard to put your finger on it. I think some of it is the passion and heart the other films have as one of the ingredients lacking. There’s also a number of new players in the lineup that are feeling their way into the characters as well as working with the veterans of the group so there’s a bit of an awkward chemistry between them.
I also felt when I was watching it that it was big for the sake of being big right away. There wasn’t much of a build up so the more pivotal moments lost some of their punch due to the epic nature of the film in general. Though, there are still stand out moments and nods to the comic at times too. The way Apocalypse grows in size during his confrontation with Xavier is a good example of something taken from the books as is the use of the sentinels in the Danger Room.
The premise isn’t bad and works as a reasonable vehicle although it did feel formulaic at times. The insertion of Wolverine seemed more as a necessity just to make sure he was included in the lineup rather than a need for his character as they redefine the Weapon X storyline again to shoehorn him into the movie. It felt the same with the inclusion of Mystique/Raven/Jennifer Lawrence. Her performance is especially lackluster and her actual presence doesn’t really add up to much with the exception of some emotional moments that she wasn’t great at delivering. Unfortunately I felt like Lawrence kind of phoned in this one and that she was written in to get her name on the poster.
There are some good performances in here to be sure. Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy are strong in their roles as usual as was Nicholas Hoult as Beast. Rose Byrne as Moira MacTaggert was enjoyable to watch and Evan Peters in the role of Quicksilver is a blast. However, Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark from GoT) was not so great as Jean Grey as her performance was very one-note and unemotional. There were a lot of missed opportunities with her character especially when she emerges as The Phoenix which could’ve been much more intense. Shame on her and director Bryan Singer for not pushing harder, that was disappointing. Oscar Issac as Apocalypse could’ve been much more impactful but the cartoony makeup of his character got in the way of his performance at times. The rest of the lineup is ok, but that’s really kind of it, no big standouts.
It’s hard to say for sure, but if I had the choice of seeing the film in the theater for the first time knowing what I know about it, I’d probably go see it but only if I was really bored. Oh, and don’t forget like the dumb asses I see leaving the theater, if you leave before the END of the credits, you’re going to miss the final scene!
reviewed by Sean McKnight
Ok, so I would guess you heard by now that the re-boot here of Marvel’s longest-running superhero team sucks. I don’t like to make up my mind until I see a film for myself, but I’ll confirm too that the film is pretty bad. As for why, well…
Starting with the script, there are some interesting ideas here but there’s a lot of backstory that isn’t necessary, especially in the beginning to establish the friendship between Reed Richards and Ben Grimm. And that’s part of the problem, there a numerous points that are kind of unnecessary and don’t really move things forward which really slows the pace of the film making it pretty boring throughout much of it. Then there’s the tone of the film, which is dark. Ever since Chris Nolan rebooted Batman with a darker tone, everyone thinks that dark is the way to go. Well, that worked for Batman because he’s a dark dude but that doesn’t work for all comic characters (cough, cough, Superman, cough, Zach Synder, cough, cough). And the dark tone doesn’t work here either. If you read the Fantastic Four comics as I did, you know there was some humor with them and it never creeped into too ominous of a theme overall. They were always one of the more lighter superhero teams that were fun but not overly serious or depressing. Here, the tone is not fun, just dark and I’m afraid that approach just fails here.
Josh Trank directed and I have to say I lost some respect for him when he came out and said how disappointed he was with the film and blamed the studio primarily for it. As a director myself, I understand his complaints but ultimately, he’s still the director and holds some responsibility here himself. I can’t believe he was blind to the problems of the film from the get-go so I’m sorry but I feel he’s equally accountable for the shortcomings of this movie. Take the blame here Trank, it’s your film too.
The actors are lackluster at best. There are no memorable moments here with everyone seeming kind of muted in terms of their performances. I know that Kate Mara and Michael B. Jordan are capable of much more than I what I saw them deliver, it’s a shame, it feels like they were told to hold back when they should’ve had more opportunity to run with the ball. Miles Teller who plays Reed is kind of blasé on camera as well. I don’t know if it’s him or the way he was directed but he’s very milquetoast as far as his portrayal of the lead. Jamie Bell is ok as Ben Grimm/The Thing but he’s just ok. Even the Dr. Doom role came off boring played by Toby Kebbell. He tries to come off in a menacing way but he just seems quiet, not threatening. Overall, the whole thing performance wise feels like most of them were just phoning it in for the paycheck.
Ugh. Dont’ bother. If you really want to see a Fantastic Four film, go back to the original from 2005 with Jessica Alba and Ioan Gruffudd, which was at least a decent film and fun to watch. This one is neither…
reviewed by Sean McKnight