Theater Roundup: The Best That Late September Can Muster
I've seen a bunch of movies since I last wrote about that weird Liam Neeson pizza movie a couple of weeks ago, but between a busy schedule full of hard working, hard traveling, hard vacationing, and hard sleeping; I would highly doubt that I'll gather up the time and energy to give each of these movies their own proper over-worded, smarmy review. So here I am now, just spewing them all out in little chunks, like an undercooked Tombstone Double-Top 4 Meat pizza after a grueling night of drinking whiskey and blended Starbursts.
The Maze Runner
I thought from the previews that this looked kind of like a dumbed down, teen demographed version of Cube, and to be honest, I didn't really have high expectations for it going in. I'd say it about met my so-so anticipation for forgetability. It has an interesting premise for a movie this stupid, and there's a lot of mystery involved from start to finish. Like, literally to the finish. They don't give any answers. The freakin' movie was written as a cliff hanger. And it's in that sort of pompous assumption by the film studios that the entire world will be so desperate to hear what happens next in the Maze Runner saga that they intentionally only told a fragment of a story with no resolution that makes me hate this sort of thing. The first Hunger Games film had a very definite conclusion to that part of its story. Sure, they set up "bigger picture" elements for sequels in the process, but at least it was a movie that had a beginning, a middle, and an end. The Maze Runner felt like a giant beginning, five minutes of a middle, and then the credits. Am I curious as to what the hell The Maze Runner is actually about? Sure, I guess, a little bit. Is it eating me away to know what The Maze Runner is actually about? Oh, god no. In fact, if I never end up seeing the sequel to this film, I will go on with my life in perfectly ignorant bliss. That's why I'm a little bit angry that they didn't just move it along a little further the first time around. But I know... ...franchise, franchise, franchise, money, money, money. It's the same logic that caused someone in Hollywood to greenlight The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones.
If I have to give The Maze Runner some sort of compliment, I thought the action sequences were entertaining. The special effects were better than Twilight's. It had a certain Lord of the Flies-ness to it that was also appealing. But most of the teens in this movie were weird and/or ugly-looking, and it made me pine for the delusional alternate realities of most futuristic young adult films, where the world is populated with future underwear models and TV commercial extras.
5.5 out of 10
Here's a charming story about a kid who witnesses the murder of his father, who is then sent to live in a sewer with some garbage-hoarding trolls, where he lives on a malnutritioned diet of only sewer bugs, and lacks proper medical and dental care, let alone the fact that he probably only has a kindergarden education despite growing to the age of twelve. On top of that, the guy who murdered his father is trying to commit genocide on an innocent race of said garbage trolls just so he can join an upper class, elitist cheese eating club. Yes, this is a children's film, why do you ask?
Another commendable effort from Laika Studios (the people behind Coraline and Paranorman), who seemed to have taken the gothy, weird kid's stories away from Tim Burton's 1990's career and claimed them for themselves. It's darker than either of their first two films were, and those were about orphaning a child and the ghost of a dead little girl, if that says anything. But the imaginative details and more importantly, the fluid stop-motion animation, is right up there with whatever its competition is. It was painfully barren in the creative storytelling department, though. The plot is ridiculously simple and nonsensical. The intentionally disgusting character design of EVERYONE in the movie was almost barf worthy, but was also deliberate, so I respect it. It probably could have been an Academy Award winning Animated Short film had they just made a cute 15 minute sequence about the Boxtrolls. YOU GOT GREEDY, MARTIN.
6.5 out of 10
My rationale for getting excited about Annabelle was "Hey, I liked The Conjuring, maybe I'll like this too!" (facepalm) Why am I so stupid sometimes?
I want to say that there's something worth seeing in Annabelle, and that may be true. There was a terrifyingly restrained sequence involving an elevator that is still kind of creeping me out about elevator doors as we speak, but the filmmakers manage to screw up just about everything else about this movie. Where to begin...? Probably just in the concept itself. The film is about the haunting of one particular family over the course of the entire film, before it gets passed off to where the Conjuring picks up; so essentially the entire history of the Annabelle doll pertains to two incidents, which greatly cuts down the fact that it's supposed to be this legendary haunted doll. A more effective story would have been one that involved how Annabelle haunted like TEN families before it gets picked up at The Conjuring. But that would have involved putting an effort into the screenplay, which clearly no one wanted to do.
There were like three moments where they effectively used the doll being creepy as a driving force for the scares. Everything else was showing the *ghost* of the person who possessed the doll doing things. So what was supposed to be a haunted doll movie, became a run-of-the-mill dumb ghost movie. And the demon that showed up at the end looked like Nightcrawler from X-Men. My fiance laughed out loud in the theater when they first showed him, and rightfully so. I think the film was trying to go for a Rosemary's Baby vibe, but it was way too lazy to actually pull that off. And it was boring. Screw this movie.
3.5 out of 10
I can't remember the last time I was actually excited for a Denzel Washington movie... But The Equalizer looked like Man of Fire 2, and I support that idea completely, so I got kinda pumped for it. However, the final result was a bit BLEH. It's another action movie you can file in the "indestructible hero" category, where the protagonist has an impossibly flawless skill set that can't be matched, and can get into anywhere and do anything and kill anyone without consequence or issues. Admittedly, it's gratifying to see Denzel "equalize" the bad guys and do right by the people they've wronged (BY SHOTGUNNING THEIR FACES), but it also makes for a painfully predictable film. It's a revenge fantasy tilted entirely in one direction, which can be fun, but also comes across as lazy. And at 134 minutes? C'mon, this movie doesn't need to be 134 minutes...
6.5 out of 10
The Skeleton Twins
The hype marketing for indie movies can often be a bit misleading. I went into The Skelton Twins hearing that it was going to be one of the best movies of the year based on reviews and word of mouth. That, coupled with the fact I really approve of a movie starring Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, kind of had my expectations a little high. Had I just walked into this movie without any of the hype, I probably would have liked it more. There's a few good scenes, and there's some great themes about suicide and how most of us just sort of reach a depressing mediocrity when we become adults, but for the most part it's no better or worse than any other seriocomic indie movie about sadness, with all the screaming into pillows and staring ominously out of car windows while the minimalistic soundtrack plays that you'd expect to see. Bill Hader gave it 100%, though.
7.5 out of 10
It's almost impossible to really tell you how good this movie is without giving anything away, because the entire movie is banking on the ever-evolving narrative to remain engrossing, which is certainly succeeds in doing. This is David Fincher near the top of his modern era game. I see some screenplay and editing awards coming this way, for sure. It was one of the best narratives of the year, but not so much in its complexity (when you boil it down, it's not *that* complex of a plot), but it's certainly executed in a way that makes it feel like it's more than it is. And kudos on consistently pointing out the accusatory nature of news media, and the hilarious jab at the character who is clearly supposed to be Nancy Grace.
The plot moves in so many places that I wasn't expecting it to. I genuinely did not know where things were going, and even when I kind of did, they unfolded in a way that still managed to surprise and/or shock me. For a two and a half hour-long movie, I'm not going to lie, I would have watched it for another 30 minutes. If there was anything I would say was wrong with it, it's that it had to end, and the fact that the experience was cut short when it was felt like a slight disappointment. Most of the people in the audience I was with let out a disappointing grown, because we were all pretty much invested in this saga that we wanted to continue. When a bad movie ends on a reflective note, everyone gets angry. When a good movie like Gone Girl does the same thing, everyone just gets sad. The only other weird thing about it was giving Tyler Perry a role for some reason, but in all fairness, he wasn't that bad in it (he wore a suit and tie in this movie, not a wig and a muumuu, fyi).
I don't know, I really dug this film. Gone Girl is the kind of movie that gives me some sort of overly happy justification for having "movie watching" as my main hobby, instead of model train painting or scrapbooking. For as much as I waste my money going to the theater every weekend, and as dumb as I look for spending $10 to risk my time on something like Annabelle, even when I just salvage a few seconds of great moments from movies like The Skeleton Twins and The Boxtrolls, seeing a movie like Gone Girl gives me a warm feeling inside as if perhaps I'm not completely wasting my time, because it's god damn great cinema. When I find a movie that I know I want to see multiple times right after I see it the first time, it makes this treasure hunt seem worthwhile. I'm still thinking about the movie, and picturing in my mind what happened next. I'm definitely not wondering what the Equalizer is up to after the movie ended. I'm saying I liked Gone Girl a lot, you guys.
9.5 out of 10
[Scott Roberts] "And it's in that sort of pompous assumption by the film studios that the entire world will be so desperate to hear what happens next in the Maze Runner saga that they intentionally only told a fragment of a story with no resolution that makes me hate this sort of thing. The first Hunger Games film had a very definite conclusion to that part of its story."
Different books, different approaches. Both were faithful to the approaches their authors took.
It's simply not rational for them to have crafted a bogus ending that the novel didn't. The Maze Runner novel has in fact spawned two sequels and a prequel -- all highly regarded and solid sellers. The movie has amply rewarded, if not exceeded, the filmmakers expectations: currently at $192 million gross on a $32 million budget.
In the first 17 days. It should be north of $250 million by the time it leaves theaters.
The drop from the first week to the second was in fact even lower than predicted: only 33%. Compare this to a week 2 drop of SIXTY ONE percent for Hunger Games, a number far more typical.
This is obviously going to do only a fraction of HG's overall numbers, but with a budget a fraction of that one, it'll work out just fine.
So you may not LIKE the assumption that there'll be a sequel, but no studio who takes on a franchise would assume anything different. Certainly not enough to re-engineer a conclusion that worked just fine for the books - each of which cost more than a movie ticket anyhow.
[Scott Roberts] "I can't remember the last time I was actually excited for a Denzel Washington movie... But The Equalizer looked like Man of Fire 2, and I support that idea completely, so I got kinda pumped for it.... "
I like Denzel a lot, including his schlockiest...but in the context of Liam Neeson last week, let us make no mistake, Denzel has a MUCH higher percentage of schlock with a twist of remaking the same movie.
AND THAT'S FINE. It worked for everyone from John Wayne to Humphrey Bogart to Broderick Crawford. Marilyn Monroe to a lesser extent, but certainly at least as true for Kathryn Hepburn in her comeback years of the 40s. (You remember that she was considered a washout by the end of the 30s, right?)
Why should we expect Denzel or Liam to do better than Cary Grant or Fred Astaire in that regard? I'd in fact argue that the two latter-day guys had wider ranges than most of the golden oldies I just mentioned, across vastly fewer films.
But finding your groove and rocking it? Play on, my friends. Play on.
[Scott Roberts] "it also makes for a painfully predictable film. It's a revenge fantasy tilted entirely in one direction, which can be fun, but also comes across as lazy. And at 134 minutes? C'mon, this movie doesn't need to be 134 minutes..."
You may not remember the CBS TV series this was based on: 88 episodes across 4 seasons, 85-89. I LOVED this thing at first, but it really did seem to settle into "beat up the rapist," which stops being cathartic after a while, and becomes wall-to-wall brutality.
VERY cool character, though. Edward Woodward, a (putatively) retired silver haired British gent, veddy dapper, seems more like Alfred the Butler than a badass...but the car should have been a giveway: a Lacquer Black 1985 Jaguar XJ6 Series III Vanden Plas. (We will pause for the car nerds to shiver.)
Occasional limitations notwithstanding, this was big league TV. One especially striking thing to me is that, unlike the usual disposable villain of the week crapfest common on virtually every show to this very day, the guest cast on this thing was PHENOMENAL. Absolutely unbelievable. In fact, it was so extraordinary that the GUEST STARS get their own section in the Equalizer Wikipedia entry!
None of this is to disagree with any of your movie assessments. I haven't seen any of these, and will likely only ever see two of them. LOL I always appreciate your insights, but will never be able to refrain from
a) adding extraneous details, and
b) defending the Young Adult genre on both page and screen from all comers. LOL
Since there's nothing much to see, those folks who have never seen the pilot for the rebooted Galactica series, here's your chance:-)
[Tim Wilson] "The movie has amply rewarded, if not exceeded, the filmmakers expectations: currently at $192 million gross on a $32 million budget. "
I didn't realize it only cost $32...! That's kind of a modest, restrained budget for what this movie was. I'm actually kind of impressed, I thought they would have wasted much more money on the project. Well done, whoever is in charge of budgeting The Maze Runner!
[Tim Wilson] "LOL I always appreciate your insights, but will never be able to refrain from
a) adding extraneous details, and
b) defending the Young Adult genre on both page and screen from all comers. LOL"
To be honest, I love your defense and details on those movies! I always seem like a grandpa when I don't understand where these movies are going or why they've been made. "Get off my lawn, Mortal Instruments! I"m keeping the Bones. They're mine now!" You put it into perspective.
[Mark Suszko] "Since there's nothing much to see, those folks who have never seen the pilot for the rebooted Galactica series, here's your chance:-)"
I haven't forgotten!
[Scott Roberts] "I didn't realize it only cost $32...! That's kind of a modest, restrained budget for what this movie was. I'm actually kind of impressed, I thought they would have wasted much more money on the project. Well done, whoever is in charge of budgeting The Maze Runner!"
I actually put together what I think is a pretty nifty article about the VFX on Maze Runner.
I always dread stories like these. There's a bunch of truly fantastic VFX work being done on movies that you'd only call "shi**y" if you were being charitable. LOL Not only do those artists work every bit as hard, they sometimes have to work HARDER because there's nothing else to hang the movie on, and they know it. It's soul-sucking work for them.
Since IT'S ALL ABOUT ME tho, I'll add that it's disheartening to come up with terrific articles from really insightful, energetic artists that'll never get read because the movie bites. Some of these folks are wonderful storytellers, and sometimes I almost feel like I should skip the name of the movie altogether. LOL
I'm glad you felt like the filmmakers got some bang for their buck. Unusual for work of this scope, all the VFX work was done by one house, Method. I had a GREAT talk with VFX Supe Sue Rowe, who we'd previously spoken to for John Carter (another movie whose VFX were better than the movie as a whole). I also spoke to Erik de Boer, who won an Oscar for his work on the tiger in Life of Pi when he was at Rhythm & Hues.
Kind of an interesting story. Sue saw that there were some gaps in Method's team, notably, for character animation, so she got Erik, as well as Sci-Tech Academy Award-winner James Jacobs, who won for technology related to the Goblin King in The Hobbit.
She's got some great stories about the production -- all the shooting in the maze itself took place in just TWO DAYS -- as well as some of the nuances in both look and approach that they feel really paid off the investment in R&D.
I'm really proud of the story, and I think it's really interesting even if you have no interest in the movie. Take a look.
[Scott Roberts] "I always seem like a grandpa when I don't understand where these movies are going or why they've been made. "Get off my lawn, Mortal Instruments! I"m keeping the Bones. They're mine now!" "
That's funny, I always feel like a grandpa in these posts. "It was on CBS before you were born!!! CBS I TELL YOU." "It's a book! Have you heard of books? They were very popular before you were born!"
BTW, I don't mean to say that all of these movies are GOOD just because they're part of the well-established genre of YA postapocalyptic dystopia. But a pet peeve of mine was recently raised again as I found comments like "Divergent is derivative of Hunger Games" to be way off the mark.
It's not as if, say, the original Scarface was derivative of Public Enemy because it came later. They were two pictures coming out of the same roots, and beyond the basics (gangster antihero noir), had nothing to do with each other. In fact, those are a LOT closer than Divergent and The Hunger Games.
Not that I need to go down that rabbit hole for now, and none of this has anything to do with a review of what it's like to WATCH the movie. Either you like it or you don't.
But even if it doesn't get a passing grade, understanding context is entertaining for its own sake. Understanding which conventions a western is following or subverting, understanding the ways that, say, Inglorious Basterds is sucking up the world of war movies and alternate universe comics. Stuff like that.
re: postapocalyptica in particular, it's obvious from THG and to a lesser extent Divergent (but, as noted, not as much less as you'd think) that plucky dystopian heroines can resonate with very broad audiences. It's unfortunate that some of these movies do seem rushed to strike while the iron is hot, because some of these books are terrific, and will be around for generations.
And for you folks with Netflix, a couple of episodes of the TV show The Equalizer will almost certainly be more entertaining than the movie. There are reasons why it got to hang around for 88 episodes.