Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015)

The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015)

Director: Wes Ball

Cast: Dylan O’Brien, Ki Hong Lee, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Giancarlo Esposito, Rosa Salazar, Lily Taylor

The whole kids versus ‘the system’ thing has run its course in my book. But you know Hollywood, they’ll keep pumping out movies based on the latest young adult hit novel until the whole things been bled to death. The Hunger Game movies are a huge bore for me; all they do is talk, talk, and then talk some more and it’s not even good dialog. For example Insurgent (2015), the latest sequel from the Divergent series was such a letdown of a film! Nothing happens! Worst part is that I actually enjoyed the first one! Even worse is that Naomi Watts and Kate Winslet were on this thing! Which brings me to the problem with some of these franchises: Hollywood will do a good first film to kick the franchise of and then follow it with watered down, less than stellar sequel. When it comes to franchises, sometimes Hollywood doesn’t pay much attention to sequels because they figure we’ll see whatever they pump out, because they’ve already got us hooked. They figure we’ll pay for a shitty sequel because we just gotta know how it ends. Well, I got news for you Hollywood, I’m not gonna fall for it! I’m not seeing the next Divergent film! That franchise is dead in my book. I’m sick of Hollywood stretching out films with unnecessary dialog just so they can pump out another extra sequel! What’s this sucky new trend where they turn the last film in the franchise into two films? Its bullshit I tell ya! So of course, I went into Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015) with extremely low expectations. Was this to be another stretched out, shitty sequel?

In the first film, Thomas and his crew of misfits managed to escape the maze in which they were living in, yet the question remained, who is running the show? Why where they placed in this maze in the first place and what comes after you escape it? As we soon discover, the kids haven’t escaped the clutches of ‘Wicked’ just yet, which by the way is the name that they have for the government on this series of films. That’s right my friends, the government on these films is so evil that it’s called ‘Wicked’. So anyhow, the kids have to run yet again and escape into the wild and crazy scorched earth; a post apocalyptic waste land filled with infected zombie like ex-humans. You see humanity has been infected by a deadly virus for which there is apparently no cure. The government is trying to find it, but with no success! Apparently Thomas’s blood is what can save humanity! Will the wicked government ever capture Thomas and manage to harvest his blood?

The good thing about these Maze Runner movies is that they are not boring, as opposed to The Hunger Games and Divergent films. Sure they got their expository dialog, but it’s quickly followed by action and interesting visuals. This movie has some pretty nifty action sequences, and staying true to its title, they actually do run for most of the film, this is without a doubt a chase film. So in this sense you can rest easy, the film won’t bore you to tears. And another good thing it has going for it is that it’s visually interesting. There’s this moment where the kids are running away from a thunder storm which I thought was pretty cool from a visual standpoint. There’s another sequence where they have to run away from a zombie horde while running through a series of toppled down buildings which was fun.  So while the whole theme of young kids versus the system is getting pretty old by now, The Maze Runner series is keeping things interesting by telling their tale with an emphasis on action. So kudos to the filmmakers for that!

The thing with this series of films is that there’s a shroud of mystery throughout the whole series of films. We’ve yet to fully understand why these kids were put in that maze in the first place, the answers are alluded to, but never fully answered, which I think is a successful element in these films, they want to keep us guessing. Keep it a mystery and people will want to come back for the next film. A new addition to this film was the whole post apocalyptic angle. I love post apocalyptic films and the icing on the cake is that we also get zombies on this one, now there’s a surprise! So for a while there, this turns into a zombie flick. Sans the gore of course, because we gotta keep it ‘PG-13’, can’t forget our target audience here are teens. Still, it was a pretty intense and fast paced film. The characters were likable, I thought it was interesting how each of the rebels is from a different ethnicity as if to make sure kids from all over the world are represented on the film, which reminded me of Children of the Damned (1964), which did a similar thing. This is probably done to give teens from all parts of the world a character they can identify with. I liked that they made the Asian guy a kick ass character, but the black guy does next to nothing, so I guess Hollywood still has to deal with giving black characters more substantial roles. To me, each one of the kids should have their moment to shine, not just the white guy. This is director Wes Ball’s second film, his first was The Maze Runner (2014), so this guy has two for two in entertainment value in my book, let’s see if he can keep it up for the third one. I’m curious for Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2017), let’s hope they don’t stretch that one into two films.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Deep (1977)

The Deep (1977)

Director: Peter Yates

Cast: Nick  Nolte, Jacqueline Bisset, Robert Shaw, Louis Gossett Jr., Elli Wallach

After Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) helped create what is now known as the ‘summer blockbuster’,  suddenly Peter Benchley (the author of Jaws) was a hot commodity in Hollywood and whatever he’d written suddenly became the center of attention for producers, who jumped on his novels like sharks on a frenzy. This is how we come upon The Deep (1977), a film that rode on the Jaws bandwagon for all its worth. The awesomeness that was Spielberg’s Jaws made people think that if it had Peter Benchley’s name on it, it would have the impact and the nail biting suspense that Spielberg’s film had. Was this the case with The Deep? Could Spielberg’s successful style of storytelling be duplicated by the likes of Peter Yates?

The Deep is all about Gail and David, a couple who go to Bermuda for a romantic getaway and a bit of scuba diving; you see they like to explore the wreckage of old sunken ships. In their search for underwater forgotten trinkets, they stumble upon an ampoule of morphine. When they take their findings to the local treasure expert, he tells them they’ve found no big deal, but in reality, they’ve discovered part of a treasure of more than 90,000 ampoules of morphine that sunk with a ship called ‘The Goliath’. The part that gets everybody’s panties up in a bunch is that this morphine can be sold for millions on the black market. Suddenly Gail and David become the target of local thugs who want them to dive for the rest of the ampoules. Will they strike a deal for the dive, or do Gail and David have other plans?

Movies that are about treasure hunts comply with certain elements. We always have good guys looking for the treasure and bad guys after their coat tails, willing to kill to get their hands on the loot. Both groups are fueled by greed, fortune and glory. Examples of these types of films are Romancing the Stone (1984), Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1984), The Goonies (1985) and The Phantom (1996). These films are also known as adventure films because searching for the treasure always leads to running from somebody and near death experiences avoiding booby traps, sadly, The Deep doesn’t offer us much in the way of excitement or adventure, it’s actually a pretty dull affair. Which is a sad thing because story wise it feels as if the book had great potential for an exciting adventure film. I get a feeling that the problem comes from the downright boring way in which the story was told, so even though I’m sure having all the underwater photography was a ‘big deal’ back in the 70’s, it wasn’t enough. The Deep needed to be more kinetic.

Composer John Barry did the music for this film and he’s been responsible for fantastic music for many wonderful films, but for some reason, on The Deep the music was kept to a minimum and we’re left with a lot of silent moments, with no dialog, and no music, which brings excitement levels down to almost a complete stop, even during scenes that are meant to be exciting. The film boasts the fact that it was shot mostly underwater, and it’s true, most of it was shot in four different oceans and a huge underwater set and all the actors involved had to take diving lessons. The filmmakers and actors went through all these troubles to shoot so much of the film underwater yet all that effort doesn’t seem worth it for me because the resulting film turned out so boring and uneventful.  Anyways, you know your movie is in trouble when the most exciting thing about it is an eel that hides inside of the sunken ship and every now and then pokes its head out in an attempt to eat somebody. That eel felt like a desperate attempt to inject excitement into a film that doesn’t have much of it.

This is the film that made a star out of Nick Nolte, it was his first starring role. He headlined the film alongside the beautiful Jacqueline Bisset who by the way opens the film with scenes of her scuba diving with only a t-shirt on. In these scenes, understandably so, her nipples become the center of attraction. According to producer Peter Gruber these opening scenes were one of the reasons why the film ended up becoming, to my surprise, one of the top money makers for Columbia Pictures that year. But let’s be honest, nipples aside, what people expected was another Jaws, even the poster for the film makes you think it was a sequel to Jaws. I doubt people were impressed by this film as much as they were by Jacqueline Bisset’s breasts. To my disappointment her role in the film isn’t even that good, she is often times left on the sidelines while the men go treasure hunting. Most of her scenes involve her waiting, bored out of her mind while the men are out having their ‘adventure’. Though she does have one scene where she kicks ass with a harpoon, most of the time she’s relegated to the damsel in distress type of female character. And speaking of underdeveloped characters, the film is filled with a great supporting cast like Elli Wallach and Louis Gossett Jr., but man their roles are paper thin! These actors feel wasted here. Robert Shaw, whom we all came to love in his role as Quint in Jaws (1975) gives the strongest performance in the picture.

The fact that most of the film was shot underwater was the big technical achievement with this one, they supposedly made the biggest underwater set built to that date. I just wish that after all those efforts the film audiences ended up getting would have been better. Not only that, for such a simple film, it runs for more than two hours! The Deep goes to show us the difference that the right director and the right music can make in a film. I’m not saying that Peter Yates and John Barry are bad within their fields, but a lot of what made Jaws such an amazing piece of cinema is that Spielberg was behind the cameras; Spielberg knows a thing or two about strong characters, performances, suspense and just pure cinematic entertainment. On The Deep we had Peter Yates directing and Yates is a director who took a stab at quite a few genres within his repertoire, with a couple of good films to his name like Bullit (1968) and Krull (1983), unfortunately I get the idea that at the time he made The Deep, he didn’t understand the importance of excitement in an adventure film. The results are evident in The Deep, one of the dullest treasure hunts in cinematic history.

Ratings: 2 1/2 out of 5      

Thursday, September 10, 2015

From Up on Poppy Hill (2011)

From Up on Poppy Hill (2011)

Director: Goro Miyazaki

Writer: Hayao Miyazaki

Hayao Miyazaki will always be a legend in the world of animation; he helped establish Studio Ghibli, one of the best animation studios in the world and is responsible for directing and animating many of their wonderful films. Some of my favorites are Spirited Away (2001), Nausicaa of theValley of the Wind (1984) and Ponyo (2008), but it’s unfair to name only three of his films, because he’s made so many good ones! I’d say that they are all my favorites. Sadly Hayao Miyazaki is working less and less these days, probably due to his old age. His last directorial effort was The Wind Rises (2013). The good thing about Miyazaki is that he is one of those directors who keeps making excellent films no matter his age, unlike some directors who kind of  “lose it” in their last days. But it looks like he’s working less and less all the time. Thankfully, his son Goro Miyazaki has taken the reins of studio Ghibli and has already produced two animated features: Tales from Earth Sea (2006) and the film I’ll be reviewing today From Up on Poppy Hill (2011). Does Goro Miyazaki have the same ability as his father to create worlds of wonderment and endearing tales that touch the heart?

From Up on Poppy Hill is a story that takes place within a school in Yokohama, Japan. On one side of the school it’s the girls and on the other side, the boys. On the boys’ side, the school is threatening to close down a building which serves as a club house for the boys. This building means a lot to the students because it’s like a mini university within the school; it’s their own private little world. It’s where all the little geniuses get together to explore their favorite school courses. Even the school newspaper is written and printed there. This desire to save the club house brings the school together; boys and girls join forces in order to save this ancient building. In the midst of all this, we have a romance brewing between a boy and a girl who come together in an effort to discover their roots and uncover who they really are.

There are certain elements that distinguish Miyazaki’s films from all others; one of them is the importance that he gives to the environments. The setting and the world in which the story unfolds is as important as everything else. Miyazaki creates worlds that I want to live in. For example in Ponyo (2008) the main characters live on this cozy little house, on top of a hill, right next to the ocean. The home looks so warm and inviting that it’ll make you want to be there, feeling that cool ocean breeze right next to Sosuke and his mom. Goro Miyazaki creates something similar for From Up On Poppy Hill, a story that unfolds in a cute little town in Yokohama Japan, during the 60’s. This little town will make you want to pack your bags, travel back in time and walk in the streets of that cozy little town, buying a warm dumpling from a street vendor and eating it as the rain falls. So Goro Miyazaki’s films share that importance to ambiance and atmosphere that his father gave to his own films. These are not the only similarities between Goro and Hayao Miyazaki’s films.

Hayao Miyazaki’s films are always about endearing, immediately likable characters and warm hearted situations. They are an explosion of happiness and a celebration of life and how beautiful it can be. Most of the time there’s no place for sadness on Miyazaki’s films. Some might argue that this happy go lucky nature of Miyazaki’s films makes them unrealistic, or difficult to identify with, but I beg to differ because characters in Miyazaki’s films do go through transformations and their journeys, which are filled with challenges and difficulties, but they go through them with a positive attitude and a good heart, which sometimes makes all the difference in the world. Goro Miyazaki’s From Up on Poppy Hill offers us these positive vibes as well. Same as in his father’s films, characters in Goro Miyazaki’s films do good things for each other simply because. The main character in the film, a fatherless high school girl, wakes up early in the morning to make breakfast for her entire family. The film is filled with good natured scenes like this one, like the scene in which the girls help the boys clean and fix their clubhouse. Boys and girls working together to change their world; instead of propagating that old stereotype of boys and girls hating each other all the time. It’s a beautiful scene. It’ll make you wish you were 12 again, playing in a clubhouse like that one with your friends.

But I guess what makes this film so ‘Miyazaki’ is that Hayao Miyazaki wrote it, and Goro Miyazaki directed it, so we get a double dose of Miyazaki on this one, father and son working together to give us an extra Miyazaki film! Even though the Miyazaki’s make films with a happy nature about them, within the context of the film, they also tackle serious issues. Spirited Away (2001) is all about a little girl learning to accept her responsibilities in life and pulling her own weight in the world. From Up on Poppy Hill also stars a little girl (another Miyazaki staple) who misses her father, a sailor who drifted away into sea one day and never returned. Is he still out there? Will he ever return? She handles all these issues while also falling in love with one of the boys in her school. There’s this beautiful scene where they are both riding a bike together through town during a cold, rainy evening, I loved it. I don’t know what it is about the Miyazaki’s, but they know what warms our hearts, and they put that into their movies. I think what attracts me the most to their films is that warmth. Simply seeing people being good to each other as opposed to the harshness we sometimes confront in our daily, real world lives. But then again, I think the real world can be the way it’s represented in these films even if they might be a bit idealistic at times. So what, I’m with the Miyazaki’s, I say let’s dream big about what humanity is capable of becoming. Go out there today and be randomly good to someone, simply because.

Rating: 5 out of 5


Friday, September 4, 2015

Behind the Scenes Awesomeness: Dune (1984)

David Lynch's Dune (1984) is a film that in my book, gets unwarranted bad wrap all around. First of all, producers took this film away from David Lynch and edited it in their own way and as a result, Lynch himself disowns it. True, this was unfortunate, but you know what? In my book, this film still rocks and it rocks hard! First off, as an adaptation of the book, it's actually a decent adaptation. True, it feels like a fast forward version of the book and it does leave some stuff out, but then again, doesn't every single book to film adaptation do that? Yes they do. So anyways, I admire this movie because of the incredible artistry involved in making it, and plus, even though the producers took the film away from Lynch, it's still very much a Lynch film if you ask me. This was before the days of computer generated images, so it was made old school, with matte paintings, miniatures and actual sets. When you look at this behind the scenes pictures and see the work and artistry involved for one single shot that lasts a few seconds...well, it just blows me away and makes me love the film that much more. What's that you say? You've yet to see David Lynch's Dune? Well, you're only missing out on one of the biggest science fiction films ever made that's all. I say give it a chance, I doubt you'll be dissapointed! So anyway, here I offer you guys more than 40 behind the scenes pics of this science fiction masterpiece, enjoy! 

David Lynch next to Frank Herbert the author and creator of Dune 


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