It’s been a few weeks since we’ve had any major releases, so let’s get right to it and break down The Maze Runner, Tusk and This is Where I Leave You.
The Maze Runner
In the bevy of popular young adult fiction series, there are a select few that stand out. The 2007 novel, The Maze Runner by James Dashner, is just one of countless dystopian teen books. However, it was one of the good ones. As Hollywood continued to capitalize on the fading YA movement, it was only a matter of time before Maze Runner saw its transition to the big screen.
I had the chance to speak to the author last year while his movie was still in development. He said it was nerve-wracking to have a director take your work and either succeed or fail miserably. At that time, Mortal Instruments and Beautiful Creatures had both crashed and burned at the box office. The trend of YA movies was on a downward spiral. It was easy to see why he was so nervous.
The movie begins as Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) wakes up without his memory, as a strange elevator takes him to a field surrounded by incredibly large walls. He is the latest “greenie” in a situation where one boy a month has woken up in the glade. No one knows how they got there, what they’re supposed to do or who is testing them. Thomas quickly realizes that he’s meant to be a runner and help the group find a way out of the ever-changing labyrinth. His presence, quickly followed by the appearance of a familiar girl, Teresa (Kaye Scodelario), changes life for the “gladers” and brings new dangers upon everyone.
The YA movie franchises found a new standard with last year’s Catching Fire. That movie improved on the first Hunger Games in every way. Also, since then, we’ve seen the release of Divergent. That average-at-best movie did well enough to garner talk of three sequels. The general public is getting disillusioned with the constant barrage of dystopia-fare teen dramas and for that reason, there hasn’t been much hype about The Maze Runner.
The low amount of pressure absolutely helps as The Maze Runner is far better than expected. It is a great adaptation that, while rushed at times, shows the important plot points and keeps the pace going.
There is very little we haven’t seen in this type of book adaptation before and Maze Runner seemingly makes sure to check off every genre trope along the way. That being said, there are actual thrills found along the way. What sets this movie apart from most of the genre is the reliance on solid action. Tell me this, what’s the most intense part of the first Twilight movie…..a baseball game? The most memorable part of Divergent? Tris riding a zip line. The Maze Runner wisely makes use of the unique environments and threats within the maze to amp up the intensity. You will feel claustrophobic at times.
There is so much happening in this movie that, sadly, characterization is left behind. You know the supporting characters only by their types. You really only get to know the Thomas and Newt characters. Even Teresa gets minimal importance in the movie. Several dramatic events happen throughout the movie. These kids die en masse, yet it never hits home because you aren’t emotionally invested in many of the characters.
Dylan O’Brien, best known for MTV’s Teen Wolf, is solid in the lead. Even if the franchise doesn’t continue, he’s bound for major projects. Director Wes Ball has proven to be a very competent director and should be considered to head the sequel. The twist at the end may seem silly, but it builds the potential of what could be one of the better YA franchises. I enjoyed the Maze Runner more than the first Hunger Games movie. See this if you’re looking for a solid action movie. Seeing as there haven’t been any good movies in over a month, this is worth seeing.
If Vampire Academy is the bottom of the YA adaptation scale and Catching Fire is the highest point, Maze Runner ranks right near the top.
After several promises of film retirement, Kevin Smith continues to keep on making movies. His career was at its peak in the ’90s and he’s never been able to reach the same level of quality. He used to be known for consistently clever dialogue. Yet, he’s in a slump after Cop Out and Red State. Tusk was meant to be his comeback. It was incredibly well received by critics at the Toronto International Film Festival. Whereas, now it’s in the low 40s on Rotten Tomatoes.
Bear with me as I explain the plot. Wallace (Justin Long) and Teddy (Haley Joel Osment) host a podcast called The Not-See Party. Wallace’s role on the podcast is to travel the country and interview crazy people so he can come back and tell the stories to Teddy and the podcast audience. Wallace’s upcoming interview brings him to Canada, yet the interview falls through. He doesn’t want to go back home empty-handed and conveniently finds a bathroom ad from a great storyteller who is willing to share stories about his seafaring days. Wallace drives to the middle of nowhere-Manitoba to the home of Howard Howe (Michael Parks). These two sit, drink tea and Wallace soaks up the stories of this eccentric old man. Howard recounts the story of being lost at sea and finding safety with an overgrown walrus. He clearly has reverence for these creatures. In mid story, Wallace collapses due to the special tea that Howe served him. For the next few days Wallace goes through a personal hell as he is experimented on as he’s in and out of consciousness.
This sounds like a grotesque movie so far, right? I can’t think of much worse than being at the mercy of a madman who surgically alters my body at his will. Both Justin Long and Michael Parks give it their all under Kevin Smith’s direction. Surely, they realize this is a ridiculous movie in every way, but they’re entirely dedicated.
If the movie ended at the halfway point, this would have been a solid horror entry, though incredibly similar to Human Centipede. Yet, Smith can’t help himself and the tone shifts completely once the search for Wallace takes effect. Once you meet the French detective, Tusk turns into a quirky rambling comedy. The detective is played by a nearly unrecognizable (funny what a fake nose will do) Johnny Depp. He basically shows up to give exposition that deflates the overall tension. His appearance is worth a chuckle, but then makes you realize what a dumb movie you’ve been watching.
This feeling only gets worse when you see Wallace in the walrus costume. You won’t know whether to be horrified or to laugh at how dumb it looks. Seriously, it’s bad.
The head-scratching moments would all be worth it if the writing was smart. In my high school years, I credited Smith to be the best dialogue writer out there. Now, there’s nothing beyond forced jokes to separate him from any other screenwriter.
When the movie ends, you are left wondering why it was even made. I almost couldn’t stop chuckling because I felt like I just witnessed an uneven train wreck. This movie goes full walrus and is worse for it. Don’t bother seeing it.
Never go full walrus.
This Is Where I Leave You
Jason Bateman stars in this dysfunctional family dark comedy. As the movie opens, he finds his wife cheating on him with his boss. He becomes a depressed recluse for a few months and then receives a call from his sister (Tina Fey) saying their dad passed away. Cue the family getting together for the funeral. Due to the father’s wishes, their mom (Jane Fonda) keeps the family at their childhood home for a complete week.
Throughout the week, each of the siblings goes through their own personal struggle. The oldest child (Corey Stoll) has been struggling with the fact that he can’t have children and his wife is unsatisfied. Bateman is going through a divorce which gets complicated with further news. Fey’s character is a mom who has an insufferable workaholic husband, while her brain-damaged high school boyfriend still lives across the street. And Adam Driver’s “baby of the family” character is dating an older woman but doesn’t care to settle down in any way.
These situations are only a fraction of what this family is dealing with. As we’ve seen in similar comedies, if something can go wrong in this movie, it does. The formula gets a little tired.
There are laughs to be sure. However, the biggest laughs were shown in the trailer. The rest of the movie feels a bit pretentious. Every character makes it a point to be funny at all times. It’s a shame too, as this is based on a book, there is probably a lot to these characters. But events feel so rushed, and every scene leads to a punchline, that you never care for anyone. Even Tina Fey is only there to be the sarcastic sister who tells jokes, but does nothing else. The only person who seems like he’s playing a part is Adam Driver. He actually has something to work with as the spoiled rebellious little brother who will never grow up. Everyone else seems like they memorized jokes from the script just before they walked on set that day.
I don’t hate this movie. It’s far better than Tusk to be sure. It’s basically the comedic version of August: Osage County. I wouldn’t care to ever watch it again. It has the capacity to make you smirk, but none of it ever feels real. It’s essentially rental quality if you want a typical dramedy that you can fall asleep to, but I wouldn’t recommend it to many people