Monday, September 22, 2014

Twists & Turns

I saw two new releases this weekend - This Is Where I Leave You and The Maze Runner. I have to say, I had high hopes for both and, for me, neither quite reached their potential.

This Is Where I Leave You boasts a dream cast of actors who have shown they have the chops to quickly pivot from comedy to drama to back again - Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, and Jane Fonda all have talent to spare, and Adam Driver (who plays the youngest, screw-up son in this - shall we say, "colorful" - family) has shown great promise. Directed by Shawn Levy of the surprisingly heartwarming Real Steel and the Night at the Museum movies and drawing on the well-received novel written by Jonathan Tropper, this movie about the emotional homecoming of a family following the death of the father just doesn't quite achieve anything lasting. As I watched this family try painfully to reach beyond childhood slights, hurts, and regrets, I was pulling for them - I wanted to care; but by skipping over the everyday "how we got here" parts and only focusing on the highlights, much was lost. It's not a bad movie, but somehow it feels hollow. It's a shame, as parts of it are laugh-out-loud funny and other parts are touching, but the sum just doesn't equal the parts on this one.

The Maze Runner has a different set of twists and turns. Here, instead of dealing with the maze of the human heart, it's far more literal. Boys find themselves in "the Glade," an oasis of green surrounded by very tall walls that lead to an impenetrable maze. At night, the opening to the maze closes, the maze re-arranges itself, and scary critters stalk the maze, eager to mindlessly attack and kill any unfortunate enough to be caught in the labyrinth at night. Once a month, a freight elevator deposits a load of supplies and a new boy, absent any memories of life outside, into the Glade. Over the course of three years, the boys haven't gone feral in the manner of Lord of the Flies; they've actually built up a workable society. Then comes Thomas. It's an interesting premise but the plot holes are wide enough to drive a supply truck through, which is disappointing. There are young actors in here who deserve better material instead, they got a cheap set-up. The Maze Runner is based on (surprise!) a series of young adult novels that Hollywood licked its chops to option, hoping for a built-in franchise and the entire two hour movie is exposition. And yes, environmental dystopia is the theme and the filmmakers cheat with too much handheld camera work and night filming. Oh, it's fun enough, provided you don't think too hard about the plot.

Honestly, this week - two swings and two misses.

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