Saturday, April 30, 2016

Mini movie review: The Maze Runner

Here's another post-apocalyptic dystopian YA novel-turned-movie for you, along the lines of The Hunger Games except there's no love triangle (no love interest at all - amazing!) and no one emerging with Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss charisma.  I don't know how much of that is due to the source material, however: THG books are so strong; I don't know anything about The Maze Runner series by James Dashner. Still, TMR is a decent little movie, even if it fizzles out towards the end.

Thomas (our hero) wakes up, retching and amnesiac, in a subterranean elevator as it rocks to the earth's surface.  Once above ground, he is met by a group of boys/young men who are trapped in a wooded glade surrounded by a shifting, murderous stone maze.  The boys have set up a nice little society in the three years they have been there: building living quarters, assigning jobs; following rules.  Thomas (who remembers his name but nothing else in a day or so) immediately starts questions things: who keeps sending boys to the surface once a month in that elevator?  Who were the boys before?  Where are they?  Who made the maze? And most importantly, how the hell do they get out of here?  Thomas earns a job as one of the titular maze runners: fast, brave and clever boys who go out into the Maze every day, memorizing its layout.  Within no time at all, Thomas has upset the status quo by surviving a night in the Maze, killing one of the giant, robotic/flesh spider monsters called greavers, and figuring out how to escape.  As expected, his actions shake up the fragile glade society.  But Thomas has sparked something in many of the other boys and they make a break for it.

None of the characters are all that deeply developed and the dialogue isn't anything to write home about.  But The Maze Runner is a passable entry into the genre, particularly since it isn't dragged down with the romance typically inserted in other YA science fiction.   The plot moves steadily forward; the named characters are distinguishable and relatable; the action, while depending overmuch on CGI (see above re: giant robot spider monsters), is decent, if a little confusing and dim sometimes.  My biggest issue is with the very ending where after keeping my attention for the run-time, the movie has no sort of resolution for its characters, instead going out on a "this story will be continued in the SEQUEL so no point in resolving anything NOW" note.  The Maze Runner did pique my interest enough to add the SEQUEL to my Netflix queue tho, so well-played, movie.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Mini movie review: The Neverending Story

So ... that was not quite what I had hoped for or expected.  The Neverending Story is a classic (?) early 80s children's fantasy movie, based on the first half of the German YA novel of the same name by Michael Ende.  Ende was so disappointed with how the movie came out that he tried to get the name of it changed, so as not to continue to be associated with it, but it was too late and the rights had been locked down.  This rather makes me want to check out the book - in translation, of course, as my German is rusty nonexistent.

The Neverending Story is a framework piece, with the overarching story about young Bastian, a bullied boy, mourning the death of his mother, who obtains a fantasy book, The Neverending Story, which not only immediately captures his imagination but also draws him in, literally.  The story-within-the-story is a quest by young Atreau who must find a cure for the young Empress so that she can save their land of Fantasia from the Nothing, which is swallowing and obliterating it.  After travelling 10,000 miles with the help of some gnomes and Falcor the luckdragon, all to no avail in the end, Atreau and the Empress must call upon Bastian to help save them.

The creature effects are pretty rudimentary, especially when compared to similar films like The Dark Crystal.  But I liked the creatures - I love practical effects and am willing to forgive a lot.  But this movie is sooooooooooo sloooooooooow, even at only 90 minutes long.  The creatures talk slowly, there are pointless scenes and there are an awful lot of gazing off into the distance and/or moving through space with nothing happening shots.  Slow.  The other thing I struggled with was how bad the child actors were.  I can't really fault the Empress as she didn't get a lot to do.  But Atreau is pretty awful and any time he was called upon to express any kind of intense emotion, he shouted.  There was a lot of shouting.

I suspect that if I'd seen this movie as a little kid, I would have liked it a lot.  Seeing The Neverending Story as an adult, however, didn't do the movie any favors.  Next time I have a craving for early 80s fantasy with lots of creatures, I'm going for The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth or Time Bandits.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Allow me to pause for a moment here

Wow.  Once The Walking Dead ended, things really dropped off here, didn't they?  Part of the problem is that I was traveling for several days.  And although I have two books going right now - The Covenant by James Michener and The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie - I've read them both before.  I need to get to the library; I need to watch the DVD of The Neverending Story that Netflix sent me (can you believe I've never seen it?); I need to find something new to recap.  I need to finish off True Blood but that really seems like a summertime project - something about watching Alcide and Jason, with their shirts off, all sweaty ... I'm rather thinking I might try recapping Preacher when it comes up on AMC.  That's a few weeks away, however, so I'll try to consume some media worth sharing here before then.

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Walking Dead S6E16 "Last Day on Earth" 4/3/16

First of all, let me admit that I was completely wrong about the guy in body armor being Negan.  Second of all, what an utter waste of ninety goddamn minutes.  Seriously.  This show is the worst.

Here's the B story, running throughout the ninety goddamn minutes and really only serving to break up the tension that is supposed to be building in the A storyline:  Morgan finds a saddled horse, then he finds Carol.  He patches her up as best he can (although she has a cut on her abdomen that needs stitches and antibiotics); they blandly argue about him taking her back to Alexandria because she's all, you were right and I can't kill anymore because feelings.  She scarpers off while he wastes time killing a zombie that wasn't going to hurt anybody.  That wounded Savior finds her, shoots her a couple of times (arm and leg) and then, when the Savior is about to finish her off, up rides Morgan on his horse.  Morgan warns the Savior and then shoots him about six times with the gun Rick insisted that he take.  Because, Carol, you see that anyone can kill when they really need to.  Then, two guys in body armor (another online reviewer thought they looked like street hockey players, which LOL) show up, one on horseback and the other on foot.  Morgan says to the pedestrian one, "I found your horse.  Found my friend too.  She needs help."  The street hockey players say, "Then let's get you some help" and the pedestrian one holds out his hand for Morgan to shake.  I'm assuming that the street hockey players are going to be allies in whatever battle against the Saviors there is in S7.

Here's the A story:  Maggie is really pretty sick so in a BRILLIANT move, everyone who is a first-tier character not already captured by the Saviors, plus a couple second- and third-tier characters as well, jump onto the RV to take Maggie to the Hilltop doctor.  No, really: Rick, Carl, Abraham, Sasha, Maggie (of course), Eugene and Aaron (remember him?).  That leaves Father Gabriel in charge of defending Alexandria.  No, really.  As they start off, Rick is confident and encouraging, saying that their group is strong and mighty and can do anything that needs to be done.  Woohoo, go team!

Then begins this series of encounters with the Saviors, who have inexplicably become extremely confident, tactical and stealthy, despite all prior events to the contrary, where no matter what road Rick et als. drive down, they are stopped by a Savior blockade:  first just a bunch of guys with a beaten prisoner, parking their trucks across the road; then a bunch more guys with their trucks parked across the road; then a string of zombies, several of which have been festooned recognizably with some of Rick's captured peoples' belongings (like a couple of Michonne's dredlocks and Daryl's leather jacket), chained across the road; then really a lot of guys with their trucks parked across the road (surely at least one of these could have been edited out); then a massive pile of burning logs. 

Each time our heroes are turned back, Rick's confidence fades further and he begins to doubt the wisdom of this venture.  Never mind that this is rather implausible since the timing and set-up of each roadblock would have been daunting at best, even if there are hundreds of well-organized and efficient Saviors, which we have been given no reason to believe there are.  Until now. With the RV running low on fuel and night about to fall, the gang realizes that as the crow flies, they aren't that far from Hilltop.  Eugene devises a plan whereby he will drive the RV off as a decoy while the rest of them haul Maggie (on a stretcher) by foot through the woods.  Eugene gives Rick his recipe for making bullets and Rick sincerely thanks him for it; Eugene and Abraham have themselves a moment and a big hug, saying goodbye.  Eugene drives off.

The rest of them make their way through the woods, Carl strutting and being all, you're right, Dad, we can do anything!  And then the woods erupts around them with eerie birdcalls.  It's the Saviors, and they herd our heroes into a clearing.  There are many, many, many Saviors there, all heavily armed.  Eugene is there too, bloodied and on his knees, the RV parked at the far end of the clearing.  Rick and his group are forced to their knees and then Dwight comes up, depositing Rosita, Michonne, Glen and Daryl (Daryl!) in a line with the rest of them.  Carl and Michonne are the only ones showing the slightest bit of bravado - everyone else looks terrified.

And then, the moment everyone has been waiting for all season, ever since the comics fans told the non-comics fans about him:  Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan.  For the record, Negan emerges from the RV, barbed wire-wrapped baseball bat "Lucille" nonchalantly over his shoulder, with ten minutes left in the episode.  And then he commences to do nothing but speechify for approximately nine minutes and 50 seconds.  JDM has considerable charisma but holy fuck, this is just boring.  He goes on and on and on and on.  He doesn't stop.  We know - from the comics - that this is the point where Negan beats one of our beloved characters to death with Lucille, just to show Rick et als. just what the hell he's up against.  But it's just talking ... interspersed with shots of Rick becoming more and more unhinged, sweating, shaking, nearly drooling with fear.

Finally, Negan stops talking and picks someone to beat to death.  And the camera switches to first person POV, where we the audience are in the shoes of his victim, and we watch Lucille descend.  There's a splash of blood and a cut to black, and horrible squishy noises.  And that's it.

Seriously, show?  First we get a bait-and-switch with Glen's "death," then last week we get a Daryl-gets-shot fakeout, and now this?  Three bullshit tricks in one season?  You stretch approximately twenty minutes of plot into a bloated 90-minute episode, ostensibly to build tension towards the big Negan reveal and confrontation (never mind that said tension was completely dispersed every time you cut away to Morgan and Carol's boring story (never mind that you've taken two of  the best characters and given them a boring story)), and then you don't even show it?  Fans have been steeling themselves for the loss of a major character as a heart-rending way to end the season and talk about ad nauseum until S7 ... and we get this?  Not cool, TWD, not cool at all.

Previously on The Walking Dead / next time on The Walking Dead