Wednesday, October 1, 2014

First Oscar Predictions for 2014!

Oscar season is upon us and it is shaping up to be quite spectacular. Venice kicked things off a few weeks ago with the debut of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Birdman, Telluride kept things going with The Imitation Game and Wild and Toronto closed out the early Fall festivals with the debuts of The Theory of Everything and Nightcrawler. Last week saw the premiere of David Fincher's Gone Girl at the New York Film Festival and this Friday, Paul Thomas Anderson will reveal Inherent Vice in New York as well. And don't forget about Boyhood, Foxcatcher, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Whiplash- all films that premiered earlier in the year.

After New York, Hollywood will turn its eyes to London, where David Ayer's Fury will premiere, before finally shifting back to California for the AFI Fest, which will debut A Most Violent Year and possibly The Gambler, Big Eyes, Unbroken and American Sniper. And then there's the gigantic elephant in the room: Christopher Nolan's space epic Interstellar. The film has been seen by select audiences and minds have been blown. All in all, a lot of exciting stuff has already happened and plenty more films will be debuting in the near future. Here are my initial predictions for the main categories at the 2014 Academy Awards.

BEST PICTURE


1. Interstellar
2. Boyhood
3. Birdman
4. Gone Girl
5. Unbroken
6. The Imitation Game
7. A Most Violent Year
8. Foxcatcher
9. The Theory of Everything
10. Inherent Vice

The Best Picture race is tight this year and I could not be more excited for some of the films involved. To me, Interstellar is the clear favorite at this stage in the game. I haven't heard a single negative thing about this film and what I have heard is praise of an insanely high degree. If it's as good as the hype, I see no reason why Interstellar won't take him the gold. Close behind Nolan's space epic are Boyhood and Birdman, two highly ambitious projects that could definitely get some Oscar love. Gone Girl and Unbroken are sure things for me as well, and I'm betting that the Academy finds a way to fit The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game in there too. A Most Violent Year could get in the mix (it looks great) and Foxcatcher is too good to pass up. Finally, I'm betting Inherent Vice slides in at the very end. The trailer was brilliant and I simply cannot wait to see the movie.

BEST DIRECTOR


1. Richard Linklater, Boyhood
2. Christopher Nolan, Interstellar
3. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman
4. JC Chandor, A Most Violent Year
5. David Fincher, Gone Girl

The sheer ambition of Linklater's Boyhood is what will get him the statuette. While Nolan is certainly a force to be reckoned with, Linklater's masterpiece might be too strong. There's always the possibility that Nolan makes an even greater film in the future. This is undoubtedly Linklater's crowning achievement (although I wouldn't doubt that he makes a better film in the future) and a film for the history books. He must be recognized. Inarritu could be competitive as well and Chandor and Fincher will probably get nominations for their strong works.

BEST ACTOR


1. Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
2. Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
3. Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
4. Michael Keaton, Birdman
5. Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler

The Best Actor category is fiercely competitive this year, with actors jumping into the race left and right. For me though, Steve Carell is still the clear favorite for his work in Foxcatcher. The performance has been praised since the film debuted in May back at Cannes. However, it won't be a cakewalk for the actor. Eddie Redmayne and Benedict Cumberbatch burst onto the scene at Toronto and Michael Keaton will make for some strong competition as well. Finally, I've heard nothing but great things about Jake Gyllenhaal's performance as Lou Bloom in Nightcrawler. He looks spectacular and the movie looks great. Hopefully he finds some Oscar love.

BEST ACTRESS


1. Amy Adams, Big Eyes
2. Reese Witherspoon, Wild
3. Julianne Moore, Still Alice
4. Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
5. Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything

Best Actress is a tough category as well, but I'm predicting that perennial Oscar bridesmaid Amy Adams will come out on top. She has another good role in Tim Burton's Big Eyes and it could definitely work in her favor, especially with Harvey Weinstein backing the film. Reese Witherspoon is also a strong contender for her work in Wild, which has been praised since the film debuted at Telluride. Julianne Moore broke into the Oscar race for her turn in Still Alice and many think that she could win the statue. And Rosamund Pike and Felicity Jones should make it in the final five as well for their highly praised performances.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR


1. J.K Simmons, Whiplash
2. Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
3. Edward Norton, Birdman
4. Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
5. Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice

Simmons looks to be a true revelation in the Sundance favorite Whiplash, so I can't make anyone else the favorite in this category besides him. In addition to that, the Academy is going to want to reward Whiplash in one category or another and I think this might be the one they go for. Ethan Hawke and Mark Ruffalo will be in the mix as well and judging by the trailer, Josh Brolin will be one of the standouts in Inherent Vice. However, I'm betting that the biggest threat to Simmons is Edward Norton. His performance in Birdman has been highly praised and it seems like the kind of supporting part that could take over the whole movie.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS


1. Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
2. Laura Dern, Wild
3. Rene Russo, Nightcrawler
4. Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
5. Emma Stone, Birdman

This is a really weak category, so I'm betting on Patricia Arquette taking the win here. She's great in Boyhood and the film is beloved by cinephiles everywhere. Close behind her, I have Laura Dern and Rene Russo, who were highly praised coming out of Toronto. Keira Knightley and Emma Stone will be in the mix also, but I don't see either one having a legit shot at the win.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY


1. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, and Armando Bo, Birdman
2. Christopher Nolan and Johnathan Nolan, Interstellar
3. Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness, The Grand Budapest Hotel
4. Richard Linklater, Boyhood
5. J.C Chandor, A Most Violent Year

Best Original Screenplay will be a highly competitive race and it will likely go down to the wire. Any one of these five films could win and there are some films that I haven't listed that could win as well. Birdman is the favorite in my eyes, but the Academy could want to honor Wes Anderson or Christopher Nolan, two talented screenwriters who have been screwed over in past years. And we definitely can't count out Linklater or Chandor just yet.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY


1. Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl
2. Paul Thomas Anderson and Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice
3. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson, Unbroken
4, Nick Hornby and Cheryl Strayed, Wild
5. Graham Moore and Andrew Hodges, The Imitation Game

This is a much less packed race and I truly believe that it's a two-film competition at this point between Inherent Vice and Gone Girl. The two ambitious, two hour-plus adaptations of popular novels look to adapt an interesting tone for the big screen and both look to be remarkably successful. I've got Gone Girl in first right now just because all of the buzz is with that film, but PTA could definitely do something great with Inherent Vice. But never count out the Coen Bros., who wrote Unbroken, one of the big fall films that we haven't seen yet.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE


1. The LEGO Movie
2. Big Hero 6
3. The Boxtrolls
4. How to Train Your Dragon 2
5. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

The LEGO Movie is the single best film I've seen all year and it's beloved by critics as well. Unless Disney manages to make Big Hero 6 something truly special, I can't see anything but The LEGO Movie taking home the gold. Look for Laika's pleasantly surprising The Boxtrolls and Dreamworks' How to Train Your Dragon 2 to be in contention as well along with The Tale of the Princess Kaguya.

Next time around, I'll take a lot at more technical categories and update my predictions for the major categories!

Frank review

I would be shocked to hear of anyone who wasn't immediately enticed by the premise of Lenny Abrahamson's Frank. The pitch-black comedy focuses on an eccentric (and possibly mentally ill) musician named Frank who wears a giant  head that completely masks his face. Frank is played by Michael Fassbender, one of the most promising actors of our generation. Mix the quirky plot in with Fassbender and a great supporting cast led by Domnhall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Scoot McNairy, and you've got a movie that definitely piqued my interest. However, Frank was most definitely not a film that I enjoyed. It's as bland as a movie about a musician with a giant plastic head can be and it just never grabbed my interest. There are certainly moments of inspiration, but it all amounts to a rather dull and tonally inconsistent product in the end.


Jon Burroughs (Domnhall Gleeson) is an indie musician who's really going nowhere. He writes songs occasionally, but they're all terrible. He's an exceptional keyboard player. He just doesn't have what it takes to be an artist. However, Jon's luck changes when he meets a band in desperate need of a player after their keyboardist went insane. The band's leader, Don (Scoot McNairy), recruits Jon to play at their next gig and it's there that they form a strong friendship. Jon eventually joins the band in a log cabin in the woods and they spend eleven months with the enigmatic Frank (Fassbender) who ultimately tries to perfect their sound. Eventually, Jon gets them a gig at South by Southwest, one of the nation's largest music festivals. But their biggest break might end up being their downfall.

The marketing for Frank has been incredibly misleading, only hinting at the film it truly is. This is a pitch-black film about the way that eccentric entertainers mask their true pain with tricks and gadgets. This message is especially timely considering Robin Williams, a famous actor who struggled with severe depression, recently committed suicide. I just wish that those themes were handled better. Frank is a messy movie and it's one that never accomplishes any of its goals. It's too dark to be funny and too sweet to be taken seriously. And ultimately, it's just plain dull. None of it is even remotely interesting, so by the time the important character moments came into play, I wasn't even really paying attention anymore. There was potential for something truly profound and quirky with Frank, but it just ended up being.......weird.

The film is well-written on a thematic level, but screenwriters Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan never truly delve into what makes the characters tick. We understand that Frank and Clara and Jon are screwed up in one way or another. We just never understand why they're like that. The third act really should delve into Frank's full mental breakdown, but it opts to not explain anything. Not to mention that all of the characters are extremely annoying and uninteresting. Maggie Gyllenhaal's performance is impressive because of just how truly frustrating she is, although I hated the character completely. Fassbender gives a better performance underneath the fake head, yet he still fails to make Frank actually interesting.

Frank's failure is that it believes its disturbed individuals are sweet and endearing in one way or another. They're not. Every one of them made me want to turn the movie off and go do something else. Frank is what makes the movie work at first, but eventually, I really wanted to delve into his psyche, which is something the movie seems relatively uninterested in doing. Jon is also a really tedious protagonist. He's supposed to be the only sane one in a weird world filled with crazy people, but he's just so boring. There's no character arc and there's nothing that made me care about him.

The characters are completely tedious and grating, but does the story keep the movie going? Not really. Frank's road trip story is somewhat intriguing, but it's just terribly bland at most times. Whenever Fassbender is on screen, the movie suddenly jolts awake ever so slightly. Scoot McNairy also has a strong screen presence as the band's leader Don, even though he's only in the movie for a brief amount of time. The main problem with Frank is that the inherent sweetness of the movie is attractive at first, but wears thin fast. This is a dark movie with an annoyingly sweet outer shell and that caused a lot of issues for me.

The best thing that Frank has going for it is something that doesn't work very well. A film about the deeply rooted pain of comedians and enigmatic personalities is a very interesting prospect and if Frank had delved deeper into the psyche of its main character, it might have worked a little bit better. I really appreciate what Abrahamson and the screenwriters were going for, but the characters and story just don't work on any level. It's a well-made and well-meaning film that is completely hollow emotionally and poorly written on a character and story level.

Frank is a movie with shifting tones and an element of quirkiness and sweetness that is annoying. Those elements end up distracting from the true themes of the film. However, all of that would be fine if Frank was actually an intriguing movie with characters and a story that I cared about. Unfortunately, none of it worked for me and it ended up boring me for most of the runtime. Fassbender gives an admirable performance, but even he can't save the film in the end. Chalk this one up as a missed opportunity to explore some truly relevant and provocative themes.

THE FINAL GRADE:  C-                                             (5.9/10)


Monday, September 29, 2014

'Inherent Vice' trailer finally debuts and it looks spectacular

Out of all the remaining fall films, the one that had continued to elude cinephiles everywhere was Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice. The noir comedy, which stars Joaquin Phoneix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Benicio Del Toro, Jena Malone, Reese Witherspoon, Maya Rudolph, Eric Roberts, Martin Short and Michael K. Williams, has been repeatedly teased over the last few months, but no trailer was ever released. However, buzz continued to build thanks to Anderson's comments about the chaotic elements of the film and how he would compare the film to Zucker bros. productions like Top Secret! and Police Squad! Today, we finally received a trailer for the film and it looks like it could be one of the best movies of the year. Check it out below:


I'm pretty sure my brain just exploded after watching that trailer. WOW. That's all I can really say. This movie looks absolutely perfect. I've attempted at reading the book before, but it's just too chaotic at times. However, it looks like PTA has translated the material from page to screen perfectly and I bet that this movie will work on every level. The chaos that didn't work for me in the book looks to fit the tone of the film adaptation much better. My anticipation could not be higher for this one. While it may not be the biggest Oscar contender, this could still be a classic for years to come. Inherent Vice hits theaters on December 12, 2014 in limited release and will go wide on January 9, 2015.


The Drop review

I will never turn down a good crime drama and that's one of the reasons that I was so excited for The Drop. But unfortunately, I came away disappointed. The Drop is a film that dabbles with greatness, but just never manages to pull everything together. Tom Hardy gives an electrifying, brilliant performance as Bob Saginowski and the movie has a strong sense of mood and tone, but the terrific parts never come together in the way that they should. The more tangled the film's web of twists and turns becomes, the less interesting the film is. All of this amounts to a missed opportunity for a true crime classic. Screenwriter Dennis Lehane is one of the greatest crime novelists ever, but he tries to fit way too much into the film's compact 107 minute runtime. With a stronger focus on character and a tighter plot, this would be a much better movie. Instead, we're stuck with a decent crime thriller that ends up being a mixed bag.


Bob Saginowski is a bartender in Brooklyn who seems like a pretty harmless guy. He tends the bar, is friendly to the patrons and keeps everything pretty quiet. However, the bar has dark secrets of its own. The truth is that the bar operates as a "drop" bar- a place for criminals to take their dirty money. Bob and his Cousin Marv (the late James Gandolfini) used to truly own the neighborhood, but now Cousin Marv's (the name of the bar) is owned by a Chechen gang. So when the place is robbed, bad things start to happen. The gang wants their money and will do anything to find it. Meanwhile, Bob is also trying to rescue a small pitbull puppy and court Nadia (Noomi Rapace), who has a dark past of her own. Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaearts) also comes into the picture as the main antagonist and a frightening figure in the lives of everyone involved. This tangled web of crime eventually erupts in an insane third act filled with shockingly tragic violence and brilliant surprises.

The Drop gets off to a terrific start and the promising first act hints at what could have been a brilliant, Scorsese-esque character study. Bob Saginowski is an infinitely interesting character and Tom Hardy manages to make him sympathetic and tragic. Bob deals with guilt and is haunted by his past, but is a sweet guy at heart. He always seems to want to do what is right, and when he adopts the pitbull puppy, Hardy manages to connect the audience to the character even more. But beneath all of the calmness, there's a deep sense of rage within Bob. Hardy is perfect in the role because he keeps that rage so deep under wraps. Just like Bob tries to do.

The rest of the cast is strong as well, although all of them are overshadowed by Hardy's dazzling performance. James Gandolfini is good in his final film role and has a well-written part to work with. Cousin Marv is a guy who's dealing with an immense sense of loss and he feels like his life has fallen apart. Although Lehane tangles the character through too many threads, he writes Cousin Marv to perfection. The supporting cast is highlighted by Noomi Rapace, who is given some good material to work with as Nadia. She has a meaty role and does a pretty solid job. Matthias Schoenaearts is less impressive as the sadistic Eric Deeds and John Ortiz's detective should have been cut from the film completely. He just adds another unnecessary layer to the plot.

The Drop is also a technically amazing film, filled with dark cinematography and a good sense of mood and tone. Nicolas Karakatsanis' cinematography gives the film its sinister mood and portrays its Brooklyn setting vividly. The gloomy snow and the hard bars of Brooklyn are awesomely portrayed and I really loved the way that director Michael R. Roskam shot the film. It's stunning to look at and I wish more films looked like this.

Dennis Lehane is The Drop's best and worst weapon. Lehane is a tremendous writer. I tore through his novel Live by Night in no time (I can't wait for Ben Affleck's film adaptation) and several of his other books I hope to read in the future. But he just can't quite make this film completely work. He brings in several interesting themes and the characters are well-written, yet there are simply way too many subplots. As the film went on, I became less and less interested in what was going on. Lehane keeps introducing new characters and new subplots as the film progresses and it just doesn't come together.

One of the film's biggest weaknesses is the character of Eric Deeds, played by Matthias Schoenaerts. Deeds is a psychopathic criminal, who essentially follows around Bob and Nadia. He has a connection to Cousin Marv, the pitbull puppy and he was Nadia's boyfriend. Yet he's just not all that interesting. Deeds connects the crime aspects of the story with the softer character parts and I feel like that was unnecessary. I can't really say why Lehane felt the need to add a conventional antagonist to a character-focused crime drama. Deeds is the glue of the story, but he just is terribly bland and uninteresting.

The ending of this film redeems some of the movie's previous mistakes. All of the crime threads end with appropriately gruesome violence, but there's an immense sadness to it. The characters are so well-written that you feel a true sense of remorse for them as the bodies start to pile up. But truly, this is a great ending in an otherwise decent film.

The Drop is a film that could have been something great, but some missteps in the script prevent it from being a masterpiece of the genre. Tom Hardy gives one of the year's best performances and Dennis Lehane definitely has a future with screenwriting, but you absolutely can tell that this was his debut. He tries to fit a lot of material into a 107 minute film and he really needed to cut some subplots (the film feels overlong as it is). Although this is a decent movie, I couldn't help but walk away from The Drop disappointed. There are lots of great aspects, but the whole film just doesn't work smoothly.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B-                                              (6.8/10)


Sunday, September 28, 2014

'The Equalizer' opens big with $35 million, 'The Boxtrolls' starts strong at weekend box office

After an impressive showing by Fox's The Maze Runner last weekend, the Denzel Washington-starred action flick The Equalizer became the second surprise hit of the fall with a strong $35 million opening. The hard-R film had seen a pretty solid marketing push over the last few weeks and audiences responded well. The film also received an "A-" Cinemascore, which indicates that fans were very pleased with what they saw. All in all, this is the fourth highest September opening of all time and the third highest opening of Denzel Washington's career. Not bad considering the film cost a mere $55 million. Sony did a great job with this film and a sequel is undoubtedly in the pipeline.


The Maze Runner held on to second place and grossed $17.5 million. That's only a 46% drop from last weekend, which is very good considering that films like these are typically very front-loaded. Somehow, The Maze Runner has managed to keep it going and it has now taken in $58 million. This film might push its way to $100 million, but it will be close. Still a very good showing for Fox and a new franchise will definitely pop up because of this film.

Focus Features' new animated film The Boxtrolls finished in third place with $17.2 million. The film from stop-motion animation studio Laika opened higher than the studio's previous two films (ParaNorman and Coraline) and received a "B+" Cinemascore. Pretty solid debut, and with little to no competition for the next few weeks, The Boxtrolls will probably finish with $50-$60 million.

Warner Bros.' This is Where I Leave You held pretty well this weekend and ended up in fourth place with $7 million. The family comedy has now grossed $22.5 million, which isn't bad considering it cost only $19.8 million. Probably not the big hit that Warner expected, but that's okay. Right behind it in fifth place was Dolphin Tale 2, which took in $4.8 million to raise its total to $33.6 million. Dolphin Tale 2 ended up becoming somewhat of a flop, which is somewhat surprising. Warner Bros. might actually end up losing money on this one considering it cost $36 million.

No Good Deed finished in sixth place with $4.6 million, a solid total for the small crime thriller. No Good Deed has now grossed $46.6 million, which is very impressive considering the fact that the film only cost $13.2 million. In the end, this is a massive success for Sony and Screen Gems. Universal definitely hasn't had the same success with A Walk Among the Tombstones. The dark crime thriller fell nearly 67% this weekend and grossed a paltry $4.2 million. The grisly drama has now made $20.8 million and will likely lose money in the end. A big disappointment for Liam Neeson.

Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy ended up in eighth place and grabbed another $3.7 million. The #1 movie of 2014 has now made $319.1 million and passed the original Iron Man at the domestic box office. Quite amazing. Let's Be Cops held onto ninth place and snagged $1.5 million this weekend. The R-rated comedy has now grossed $79.6 million on a $17 million budget. And finally, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles rounded out the top ten with $1.4 million. The action blockbuster has now made $187.1 million.

In the limited release world, Roadside Attractions' The Skeleton Twins grossed $1.2 million in just 385 theaters. The critically acclaimed comedy has now taken in $2.3 million and will likely expand in the near future. The Drop also took in $1 million this weekend, which was enough to raise its total to $9.6 million. It's a solid little film, but nothing special. Review coming soon for that one.

Next weekend sees the release of two major Fall blockbusters: Gone Girl and Annabelle. Left Behind is also debuting next weekend. Here are my predictions:

1. Annabelle- $37 million
2. Gone Girl- $33 million
3. The Equalizer- $17.6 million
4. The Maze Runner- $9.2 million
5. The Boxtrolls- $8.7 million
6. This is Where I Leave You- $4.5 million
7. Left Behind- $4 million
8. Dolphin Tale 2- $2.5 million
9. No Good Deed- $2.4 million
10. Guardians of the Galaxy- $2.3 million


Friday, September 26, 2014

Liam Neeson joins Seth MacFarlane's 'Ted 2'

Seth MacFarlane's Ted 2 has assembled quite the cast so far and one of the biggest additions was made during this exceptionally slow movie news week. After adding Amanda Seyfried, Dennis Haysbert and Morgan Freeman over the last few weeks, Seth MacFarlane announced that Taken star Liam Neeson will be joining the cast of the highly anticipated comedy sequel. Nobody really knows who Neeson is playing, but I'm sure that the character will have a somewhat significant role in the plot. In the meantime, Neeson can be seen in A Walk Among the Tombstones right now and he will also star in the thrillers Tak3n (out on January 9, 2015) and Run all Night (out April 17, 2015) before Ted 2 hits theaters. 


Even though he essentially plays the same character over and over, I still enjoy most of Liam Neeson's films. Non-Stop was a fun ride and I liked him in the underrated A Million Ways to Die in the West. However, my anticipation for this film is becoming more and more muted to say the least. All of these big actors in this film just seems like a bad idea. I don't know. My opinion has changed over the last few weeks. Nevertheless, I'm sure that Neeson will be great in this movie. He's always good and I hope that MacFarlane gives him a good part to work with. Ted 2 stars Mark Wahlberg, Seth MacFarlane, Patrick Warburton, Amanda Seyfried, Dennis Haysbert, Morgan Freeman and Liam Neeson and will hit theaters on June 26, 2015. 


Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Maze Runner review

Over the last few years, Hollywood has managed to find both creative and financial success with several young adult adaptations. The Harry Potter and Hunger Games franchises have produced many highly enjoyable mega-hits and The Fault in Our Stars and Divergent were solid in their own right. Going into The Maze Runner, I already knew it was going to be a hit. The books were successful and the buzz was definitely there. But I was weary of the movie. I very much enjoyed the novels, but the trailers were pretty terrible and I just couldn't get excited for this one. Surprisingly, The Maze Runner is actually a solid sci-fi flick with moments of greatness. It's a good franchise starter that sets up two very interesting sequels.


Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) wakes up in a steel box as he moves up an elevator. He has no memory and is flying at full speed. When the box opens, Thomas finds several other teenagers. The leader of the group, Alby (Aml Ameen), gives Thomas a tour of their living space (known as the Glade) and tells him about what lies beyond the Glade: the Maze. Thomas is instructed by Alby to never enter the Maze if he wants to stay alive. However, several interesting things begin to occur after Thomas' arrival. First, one of the group's runners (people who search the maze for a way out) is killed in broad daylight. After that, Thomas ends up surviving a night in the maze with Minho (Ki Hong Lee) and they kill a Griever (evil creature that kills the teens) as well. Nobody has done either of those things before. Finally, a girl (Kaya Scodelario) shows up. 

Eventually, Thomas begins a movement in the Glade and the teens start thinking that a way out is possible. Thomas, Minho and Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) band up with the other Gladers to find an escape from their prison. However, they'll face fierce opposition from Gally (Will Poulter), a Glader who thrives on order. Chaos and big-budget action ensues.

If you didn't read the book, you'll probably find that synopsis to be incredibly confusing. There is a lot of exposition in this film. Director Wes Ball has to set up the complex universe in which these characters live, but he does it pretty seamlessly. The teens have their own slang language, and although it isn't used as pervasively as it is in the novel, it still is present. However, Ball doesn't give us a whole lesson in Glade language. He just immerses us in it and it works very well. But throughout this whole movie, I couldn't help but think that it was just setting up a much more interesting sequel. Although The Maze Runner is good in its own right, it's basically setting the table for two action-packed sci-fi sequels that will deliver the goods. The Maze Runner isn't a perfect movie, but it's good enough and it puts this franchise firmly on the map.

The characters truly carry this movie and most of the actors do a fabulous job with their portrayals. Teen girl heartthrob Dylan O'Brien is surprisingly solid as Thomas. O'Brien has to carry most of the film and does a good job. His character isn't perfect, but he's good. Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Ki Hong Lee are also incredibly likable as Newt and Minho, respectively. These are important characters for a good part of the franchise, so I'm glad that the producers picked good actors. Will Poulter manages to stand out as Gally, the closest thing there is to an antagonist in this film. He brings an anger and ferocity, but you manage to understand his character. It's a well-written part and Poulter does an excellent job. Aml Ameen also does a fine job as Alby, the group's leader and Kaya Scodelario tries her best with an underwritten part. All in all, the likable cast is one of the main reason's that this movie shines.

One of the things that I truly appreciated about The Maze Runner was the sci-fi aspect. Although many will inevitably compare this film to The Hunger Games, this is a more high-concept sci-fi disaster yarn than a story about a dystopian society. The freaky robot creatures and the technology make the film stand uniquely on its own and added to the intrigue of the film for me. I also enjoyed the score by John Paesano. It's big and overdramatic and a lot of fun.

Director Wes Ball and the three credited screenwriters do a pretty solid job of setting up this universe while preventing this film from moving at a glacial pace. Most of the characters are well-developed and while the plot is flimsy, it's serviceable for this film.

The worst thing I can say about this movie is that it is slow and not much actually happens. Most of these problems come from James Dashner's novel, but I still wish that Ball and the screenwriters could have tightened them up. Not much truly happens in The Maze Runner, but I feel like Ball could have made some of the events feel more significant. It just feels like stuff happening for most of the runtime. I can barely put it into words. The whole movie just felt oddly insignificant and anti-climatic.

In the end, The Maze Runner is a decent, enjoyable film that sets up two sequels that will likely be much more exciting and undoubtedly more emotionally involving. Wes Ball does a solid job of setting up all the characters and making you care about a few of them. They're oddly well-developed for a young adult film and that surprised me a lot. Despite its flaws, in many ways this is necessary viewing if you intend on seeing the sequels that will surely be much more polished.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B                                                 (7/10)