By the Book: The Maze Runner

Very rarely does a movie adaptation do the book justice. For every Hunger Games there is a Mortal Instruments. Luckily, The Maze Runner does well translating the literary onto the big screen.

the_maze_runner_book_cover_01Thomas awakens in a moving elevator not knowing who he is or where he is. He is introduced to a group of boys named The Gladers, the inhabitants of a lush valley. But beyond the valley is The Maze, a dangerous puzzle that the boys try each day trying to figure out how to solve and escape captivity. Thomas is just the many is a long line of boys who are sent to this world not knowing their purpose. But then suddenly things change when girl is dropped off along with a note saying she will be the last. Suddenly, the game seems even more dire.

The movie makes minimal changes, usually to facilitate the movie’s action. The biggest change is the complete removal of Thomas and Teresa’s telepathic link. In fact, Teresa herself is mostly down played.  In the book she is unconscious when she arrives. In fact, she talks to Thomas telepathically and tells him that her appearance has triggered “The Ending.”  This is the first of many clues that she and Thomas are not only linked but that they have something to do with what is happening to these boys. The two make use of their telepathy many times throughout the series, so it will be interesting to see how this deletion changes the aspects of the other movies.

The movie is a beautiful representation of The Glade and The Maze. It looks exactly as I hadMV5BMjUyNTA3MTAyM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTEyMTkyMjE@__V1_SX640_SY720_ envisioned it except for The Maze walls. Due to filming limitations, you can see the ends of the massive walls but this allows for gorgeous Ariel shots of not just The Maze but the boys’ habitat in relation to The Maze. The production team manages to make the whole area beautiful yet unsettling.

The casting fits perfectly. The group of boys in the book has a wide variety of nationalities, ethnicities and ages, and the movies portray this well. No character is white washed and except for two of the actors, everyone is a relative unknown. This helps when casting an isolated, post-apocalyptic movie. It seems more real when Tom Cruise isn’t being reborn every five minutes. My favorites include Patricia Clarkson and Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Love Actually, Game of Thrones). Clarkson is perfect as the tester who makes a short but impactful appearance about the boys’ origins, and Brodie-Sangster is perfect as Newt, a fan favorite. He balances the aspects of being a leader as well as a scared teen boy well.

The Maze Runner made almost all of its $34 million budget its first week, and the sequels have been ordered. In fact, another Game of Throne actor (Aiden Gillen) is set to join. Here’s hoping the sequels will be as true to their book origins as this one was.

 

 

Life, Death, Beth

Life After Beth looks at love and zombies. Unlike a similar zombie love story, Life After Beth does not get existential nor does it give a point about life. Instead the dark comedy starts off entertaining but then plods along like a zombie in the last stages of decay.

Zach is emotionally lost after his girlfriend Beth dies from a snake bite. He visits with her parents and plays chess with her father to help them both mourn. Then suddenly the Slocums stop answering the door or the phone. Zach finds out that Beth is alive. At first he thinks Beth’s death was a hoax but then it becomes apparent that the girl he knew has changed. She is in fact a zombie. Zach is faced with conflicting feeling: relief that she is back and fear for what she has become.

The set up for the movie is great. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy loses girl. Girl comes back to life. Boy gets girl back.

It’s an interesting concept that makes you think about what it would be like if your loved one did come back. The movie is balanced with humor to keep it from becoming a mushy mess. But then the movie takes a weird turn leaving behind the emotional struggle Zach goes through.. A second love interest is awkwardly added in and more zombies arrive.  . Had the movie the movie just followed Beth and Zach, the film’s themes would have been more clear and the movie would have been more enjoyable.tumblr_n8vggp44841qgbfyko4_1280

The best part of the film is Matthew Gray Gubler as Zach’s spaz of a brother.  A security guard for the neighborhood, Kyle pines for more and is always ready to put a perp down. Gubler captures the spaz aspect easily and it is fun to see him more than the nerdy Reid from Criminal Minds. Gubler handles the humor with ease and gives the best performance in the film. John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon dazzle as Beth’s confused parents but the rest of the cast falls short of truly capturing their character with finesse and grace.

Funny but often absurd, Life after Beth tries too hard to be more than a typical zombie flick.  What begins as a supernatural dark comedy turns into a zombie cliché mess. It’s worth a watch but it isn’t going to be a landmark of the genre.

The True Gift of the Giver

In 1993, Lois Lowry wrote the world of dystopian future in a way that children could understand. Most of these tales were saved for adults reading science fiction, making statements to people who had already grown into their world. The Giver gets on the level of the younger generation helping them develop real ideas about free will, love, and hate.  This novel is a segue for future authors such as Suzanne Collins. This Newbery Medal winning book is the latest in YA adaptions.

The big screen adaptation brings the story of Jonah to life. As he graduates from school, Jonah learns a lot about his world he never knew. Set in the future, the peaceful Community follows specific rules that keep people from deviating from the norm and doing anything that could crush the delicate peace. The Community knows that it must not forget the past, and designates one person to be the Receiver of Memories. Jonah is chosen as the next Keeper, and he trains with the current Keeper. Jonah learns about colors, love, war and free will. He realizes that the Community is not as perfect as it claims to be.

The Giver has faced a lot of criticism for its lack of thrills. But this movie is not The Hunger Games or Lord of the Flies. The central themes are about peace and free will. It is a statement about violence without using violence to combat it.  Jonah is motivated by love to change the world. He sees the whole spectrum of what can happen when humans have emotions and he decides it’s a gift people need. The book is twenty years old but it still applies today. We have a lack of empathy for our fellow man as a society and often fall on negative emotions and rely on violence as our answer.Jeff-Bridges-Brenton-Thwaites-The-Giver-Movie

The movie is also visually attractive and different from others in the genre. The Community starts in black and white and colors only revel themselves as Jonah learns about them. This gives a very organic feel to how one dimensional the society is.  Unlike many dystopian socials, the set is not barren and desolate. The homes look futuristic but real, and there is plant life prominently featured. This set dressing gives a distinguished look of a very different kind of story.

The Giver is a poignant story that deals in emotions. Emotions of the characters as well as emotions of the viewer. Seeing the world again through Jonah’s eyes gives hope.  And that is the true gift of The Giver.

Locke In

Tom Hardy has received massive critical acclaim in his newest movie Locke. An indie British flick, Hardy is the only man you see on screen. The movie is thought provoking but lacks the bite it needs.

Locke follows Ivan Locke on his hour and a half drive to London.  On that drive Locke decides that he must do the right thing so someone’s life does not end up like his. But as he drives he must deal with the fallout in his life and has to realize how many other lives are on the line. Locke finds that not only his home life but his work life is on the line as well.

It’s clear to see why the critics love Locke. Hardy is a magnificent actors and this real time excursion allows him to showcase his full acting tool box. He easily and believably runs the gamut of emotions and makes viewers feel each one. Because of this the movie leaves you with a visceral feeling as your drive away from the theater (or from your home as the case may be). Viewers truly see how easy it is too lose everything you know; how one mistake can cause you to loose your job, your family. Locke excels at making you think and feel.

What Locke does not do is giving viewers a satisfying ending for a man and his transgressions. Ivan Locke is unlikeable. It’s hard to imagine that he was ever more than he portrays himself in the movie though it is fun to see him move towards a nervous breakdown. But there is no payout.  His punishment is too pedestrian to be art and that is what viewers expect from this film.

Hardy walks the fine line of commercial and critical success even though he is not yet a household name. He chooses roles that allow him to fully become the character, but sometimes that isn’t enough Sometimes viewers just need to feel good about a movie.