Film Review: The Maze Runner (dir by Wes Ball)


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Hi there and greetings from beautiful Lake Texoma.  Having recently completed both 3 months of covering Big Brother for the Big Brother Blog and my series of Back to School reviews for this site, I am currently on a much-needed vacation with my wonderful boyfriend.  However, you all know that I would never let a little thing like being on vacation keep me from watching and then reviewing whatever is currently playing down at the closest available theater.

For instance, last night, we saw The Maze Runner at the Cinemark 14 in Denton, Texas.  The Cinemark is a really nice theater.  The seats are comfortable.  The people working there were nice and polite.  The movie sounded great.  Even the audience was surprisingly polite.  Only a few people came in late and, for the most part, everyone refrained from talking during the film.  Good for them and good for you, Cinemark 14!

As for the movie itself…

The Maze Runner tells the story of Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), a teenager who wakes up one day in a grassy clearing that is encircled by gigantic, gray walls.  Thomas finds himself surrounded by several other teenage boys.  Unable to remember anything about his past (but haunted by chaotic dreams that suggest that he is the part of some sort of lab experiment), Thomas initially reacts by trying to run.  However, he is quickly tackled and introduced to his new home.

The grassy area is known as the Glade and the boys who live there are known as Gladers.  Their leader is Alby (Aml Ameen) and, as he quickly explains to Thomas, he has created a tediously collectivist society where everyone has his assigned place and his assigned duty.  (And yes, that is the correct pronoun.  There are no girls among the Gladers.)  Alby explains that, behind the walls, there lies a maze that is patrolled by terrifying creatures known as Grievers.  The most athletic and intelligent of the Gladers are allowed to become Runners.  Everyday, the Runners run through the maze and memorize every twist and turn.

Thomas, needless to say, wants to be a runner.  And it’s good that he does because otherwise, the film would be kind of boring.

Anyway, along the way to becoming a runner, Thomas has more visions of an autocratic woman (Patricia Clarkson) and he also manages to make an enemy out of Gally (Will Poulter), a Glader who never wants to leave Glade.  Eventually, a girl named Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) shows up, along with a note saying that she’s the last one and no one else will be showing up in the Glade.

Now, at this point, you may be tempted to ask, “What’s going on?”

Well, you’ll have to wait a few years to find out because The Maze Runner is just part one of a trilogy.  Much like The Hobbit, Divergent, and The Hunger Games, it answers just enough questions to keep the audience satisfied while still ending with a cliffhanger.  So, if you do see The Maze Runner, be sure to pay attention because you don’t want to forget everything that happened before the sequel comes out sometime next year.

There’s a lot of good things that can be said about The Maze Runner.  For the most part, the actors did a good job.  The grievers were scary.  The maze looked impressive, though it’s hard not to feel that the film did not take full narrative advantage of it.

However, to be honest, I have seen so many recent adaptations of dystopian YA books that, with the exception of The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, they’re all starting to blend together.  The Maze Runner was well made but there really wasn’t anything about it that distinguished it from the pack.  Without the presence of a star like Jennifer Lawrence or the satirical subtext that distinguished The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner ultimately just felt like your typical franchise starter, not so much a story but instead just an extended prologue.

Again, it’s not necessarily a bad film.  It’s based on a book and, undoubtedly, a lot of details did not make it from the page to the screen but there’s still enough there that even people who haven’t read the book will probably be able to follow the story.  Me, I’m a Texas girl and, therefore, it’s a part of my heritage to appreciate any film that features an individual taking on an elitist dystopia.   But, in the end, the film is never quite as memorable as you want it to be.

Perhaps we’ve all just been spoiled by The Hunger Games

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Trailer: Taken 3 (Official)


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Why are bad guys still messing with Liam Neeson…I mean Bryan Mills. He literally took on an Albanian gang in Paris (of all places) who were kidnapping young, female tourists to sell to Parisian sex-slave auctioneer who only did business with a very exclusive clientele. Then the hometown relatives of said Albanian gangsters tried to take him out. That didn’t work out so well.

Now, this coming January just when Bryan thought his life as a retired government worker with a unique set of skills can finally enjoy retirement with his lovely daughter and rekindle his relationship with his ex-wife people are out to be quite the killjoy once again.

Taken 3 will see Liam Neeson back as Bryan Mills, Maggie Grace as his daughter Kimmy and joined by Forest Whitaker as an LAPD inspector tasked with taking him down for a murder he didn’t commit. Once again this sequel will be helmed by that French director with the awesome name: Olivier Megaton.

Some people say Taken 3 (will not call it Tak3n) is just a rehash of The Fugitive, but I disagree. Richard Kimble never broke people’s throats and shot many people in their heads to find those responsible. The throat breaking alone puts Bryan Mills heads above Richard Kimble.

Taken 3 is set for January 9, 2015 release date.

Review: Gotham S1E02 “Selina Kyle”


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Tonight’s Gotham picked up where the “Pilot” left off and that’s the fallout from the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne. We find out during the episode that the Wayne family was considered one of the two pillars of the Gotham community which kept the city’s order and status quo. The other pillar being Don Carmine Falcone was a nice touch by the writers. It was this little piece of world-building information that is gradually selling me into this series even this early in it’s freshman season.

The history of Batman, the Wayne family and the underworld which permeates Gotham has been told and retold so many times that it’s hard to imagine that anything new could be added to keep things fresh to hardcore fans of the character and the world. It’s actually been a major problem for comic book and film screenwriters when it’s time to come up with something new and not have it become such a major deviation from the character canon to alienate fans.

Showrunner Bruce Heller must’ve seen something within the backstory and history of some of Batman’s adversaries because he looks to be setting up Carmine Falcone and Fish Mooney as the two main antagonists for season 1. In the comics and in the films we don’t really get to explore these two characters very closely. They’re described as underworld mob bosses and, at times, seen as brutish thugs who just happen to be the heads of their criminal enterprises.

“Selina Kyle” is the title of tonight’s episode though we don’t really see the title character until much later in the episode. The episode itself dealt with a new case for the Gordon and Bullock duo who are still feeling their way around each other. It doesn’t help that Bullock seems to be getting tired of Gordon’s “holier-than-thou” attitude towards him and the rest of the force considering he and many in the force think Gordon killed Cobblepot in the previous episode. We, the audience, know better, but Gordon knows he has to continue to sell that assumption made by everyone.

While tonight’s episode wasn’t as overly busy with cramming as many Batman characters and locations it was still quite packed. In addition to building on the Gordon and Bullock relationship, we also have the episode’s main story about teen runaways being grabbed off the streets by unknown parties. Then there’s still the Wayne murders which the pilot episode showed wasn’t really solved. Will the murders of Bruce’s parents take up the bulk of the first season (I sure hope it doesn’t) or will it get a good enough resolution to help move the season’s narrative towards other more interesting storylines.

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It’s in the last twenty or so minutes of the episode that we finally get to see Selina Kyle. Camren Bicondova has such a unique look that it’s a bit jarring seeing her, at first. Yet, it’s the actress’ very exotic-look that hints at Bruce Wayne and Batman’s one true love turning into quite the seductive beauty. Yet, tonight’s episode just portrayed Selina Kyle as a tough, street-savvy runaway whose major role this season is the fact that she knows who really killed the Waynes.

Now, what really made tonight’s episode keep the series on an upward trend would be the two characters mentioned in the beginning: Carmine Falcone and Fish Mooney.

These two characters have become more interesting in just two episodes than throughout all the thousands of stories told about Batman through the comics, films and cartoons. As played by John Doman and Jada Pinkett Smith respectively, Falcone and Mooney make the show really interesting. These are not costume wearing villains or mentally-scarred antagonists. They’re hardcore criminals, but who have learned how to work within the system that is Gotham’s elite society. Where the show pushes forward that the Wayne family has been and continues to be a longstanding pillar of Gotham community, the show also seems to intimate that it does so with a sort of tacit acknowledgement of the seedier side of Gotham.

John Doman’s performance as Carmine Falcone continues to impress. There’s an almost paternal quality to the character but one that never tries to hide the brutality that’s made him the boss of all of Gotham’s criminal underworld. There was such a nice transition from polite businessman to sociopath mob boss in a space of a heartbeat during Falcone’s impromptu meeting with Mooney that one had to rewatch the scene more than once to pick it up.

Of course, many will point out that Jada Pinkett Smith as Mooney was just as good, but in a much more showier fashion. No disagreement in this corner. Smith’s performance is the opposite of Doman’s and it will be interesting how the power play between the two bosses will develop and how it’ll affect the rest of the cast of characters on Gotham.

This show still has growing pains to go through, but tonight’s episode was a good way in working through it while still trying to tell a compelling story. One thing Heller seems to have gotten right (whether by accident or deliberately) with this show’s writing is that he’s made the villains more interesting than it’s supposed heroes. That’s always been the case with Batman outside the comics and this show just continues to perpetuate it.

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Trailer: Inherent Vice (Official)


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The arrival of a new Paul Thomas Anderson film seems to always be a time for excitement. P.T. Anderson’ films can never be called boring. They’re all entertaining on some level for even those who don’t quite get Anderson’s quirky-style of storytelling.

I’ve admired all of Anderson’s films. Have I liked all of them? Not really, but I can understand why many anticipate each and every new film he releases like it was the second coming.

I have no idea what’s going in just going by the trailer, but it does have a noir vibe going for it. Plus, it has Joaquin Phoenix and Josh Brolin.

Inherent Vice is set to premiere on October 4, 2014 during the New York Film Festival before going wide release on December 12, 2014.

Trailer: Big Hero 6 (2nd Official)


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Big Hero 6 is the next offering from the Walt Disney Animation Studios. While Pixar has the reputation of being the top animation house within Disney, the last couple years have seen the Walt Disney Animation house taking most of the glory. First, there was the surprise hit Tangled which was soon followed up by Wreck-It-Ralph which was both a success with critics and audiences alike. Then last year we saw the unstoppable juggernaut that was Frozen.

Frozen was originally thought to be a weak offering due to a weird marketing campaign, but it soon changed both critics and audiences minds when it came out in November 2013. From there on it just stayed in the weekly top 10 box-office for months.

Now we have Big Hero 6 which brings one of the more obscure Marvel Comics properties to the big-screen. This film looks to take the characters from the original comics, but the story itself looks to be something wholly original. So, fans who have been waiting for either Pixar or Disney to create an animated film using more recognizable heroes from Marvel’s massive library will have to wait just a bit longer.

Big Hero 6 will make it’s premiere at the Tokyo International Film Festival on October 23, 2014 with a wide release on November 7, 2014.

Back to School #80: The Unauthorized Saved By The Bell Story (dir by Jason Lapeyre)


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Well, it’s here!  This is my 80th and final Back to School review!  As I’ve mentioned before, I originally thought I’d be able to do all of these reviews in just one week.  Instead, it’s taken me five weeks but you know what?  I’ve had fun doing these reviews and I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading them.  It’s been interesting to see how teen films have progressed and changed over the decades.  We started this series with 1946’s I Accuse My Parents and now, we end it with a film from 2014 that might as well be called I Accuse Screech.

Technically, it’s called The Unauthorized Saved By The Bell Story but that’s kind of an unwieldy name, isn’t it?  I can’t really see myself typing that title over and over again.  So, for the purposes of this review, this movie is called I Accuse Screech.

First off, some background.  When I was a kid, I used to watch Saved By The Bell: The New Class.  What’s weird is that, when I look back at it, I think even then I knew that the show wasn’t very good.  I knew that the jokes were frequently not funny.  I knew that the story lines were predictable.  I think I was even aware that it was strange how frequently actors were either dropped from or added to the cast.  Don’t get me wrong.  The show was (and still is) oddly watchable but it was never any good and I am pretty sure I knew that.  Then again, maybe that’s just way I want to remember it.  Being a fan of Saved By The Bell: The New Class isn’t exactly something that you brag about.  However, one thing that I can be sure of is that, even when I was young, I knew that Screech Powers sucked.

As played by Dustin Diamond, Screech was the principal’s assistant at Bayside High.  He was also probably the most annoying character ever to be unleashed onto the psyches of impressionable children and tweens.  Screech spoke in a high, squeaky voice and could usually be relied upon to do something incredibly stupid.  Whenever he fucked things up (and he managed to do this several times in each episode), he would say something like, “Zoinks!”  Everybody hated Screech.

Now, I have to admit that I never actually saw an episode of the classic original Saved By The Bell until after the New Class was already off the air.  And that’s when I discovered the adventures of Zack Morris, A.C. Slater, Kelly Kapowski, Jessie Spano, and … Screech.  That’s right, you can’t escape Screech!

And here’s the thing — the original Saved By The Bell is one of those shows that really is kind of terrible and yet you can’t stop watching.  It’s addictively bad, the type of show that you watch with a combination of shock, horror, and amusement.   The original Saved By The Bell is the television equivalent of The Room or Troll 2.  It’s terrible but it’s fun.

So, you would think that a made-for-tv movie about what went on behind-the-scenes of Saved By The Bell would also be terrible yet fun.  That’s certainly the way that it was advertised by Lifetime.  Lifetime appeared to be hoping that their version of the story behind Saved By The Bell would give them a Sharknado of their very own.

And hey, it should have been great.  There’s an interesting story there.  How would a bunch of teens handle suddenly becoming famous?  How would they handle the pressure of being famous while also appearing on a show so bad that it would essentially run the risk of ruining their lives, not to mention their careers?  How would they handle having to grow up both on TV and in real life?

Those are the questions that we expected to have answered by this movie but instead…

Well, let’s just say that I Accuse Screech!

In 2009, Dustin Diamond published a “memoir” called Behind The Bell and oh my God, it is literally the worst fucking book ever written.  Words escape me to describe just how terrible this book is.  Essentially, the book is full of Diamond either complaining that his co-stars didn’t like him or bragging about the fact that he used to have sex with 12 year-olds at Disneyland.  Diamond accuses his castmates of smoking weed.  (Wow, teenagers smoking weed.  MY GOD, THE SCANDAL!)  Diamoned accuses his castmates of having sex.  (OH MY GOD, TEENAGERS HAVING SEX!)  In other words, the book is pretty much Dustin Diamond complaining about the fact that everyone but him was having fun on the set of Saved By The Bell.

So, of course, if you’re going to make a movie about Saved By The Bell, where would you go for your source material?  Well, you can’t go to any of the stars because, with the exception of Dustin Diamond, they all have successful careers outside of Saved By The Bell.  And you can’t go to Dennis Haskins because, seriously, who cares what Mr. Belding thought?

Lifetime decided to use Behind the Bell as their source material.  Unfortunately, Diamond himself has admitted that the book was a pack of lies.  As a result, most of the more salacious (and therefore entertaining) material could not actually be used in the movie.  The Lifetime film is full of hints of bad behavior but no direct evidence.  At one point, we see the actor playing Mario Lopez flirting with an extra in a deserted classroom.  In another scene, the girls get snarky with each other because they all like Mark-Paul Gosselaar.  But, beyond those hints, we don’t get to see any of the book’s more sordid accusations.  Instead, all we get are a lot of scenes of the actor playing Dustin Diamond looking annoyed with his castmates.

(Because, literally, the only verifiable, non-slanderous thing to be found in the book is that apparently Dustin Diamond was whiny, bitter, and jealous…)

As a result, the film seems to be suggesting that Saved By The Bell was put together and performed by the most boring people on Earth.  The end result is not only the worst film to have appeared on Lifetime but perhaps one of the worst films of all time.

Why is it so bad?

I accuse Screech!

(Incidentally, if you want to learn more about Saved By The Bell, I suggest checking out the best Saved By The Bell review site around, The Summer of Morris!)

And, on that note of failure, we conclude this series of 80 Back to School reviews!  Thank you, everyone, for your indulgence and your patience!  I hope everyone enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.

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