The Maze Runner starts out mildly intriguing. The set up is curious enough that we want to see how things will develop. These youths in the wild get along pretty well for the most part. Everybody seems cool with the distribution of tasks, with sole objections coming from Gally (Will Poulter). It's a variation of Lord of the Flies minus the commentary that made that novel interesting, the idea that man is inherently barbaric. Unfortunately more substance is sorely needed. As the saga progresses, it doesn't really develop into anything at all. By the end we're left with a supremely unsatisfying ending that basically says, this is only the beginning. Stay tuned for the sequel: The Scorch Trials. This adaptation is based on the teen lit bestseller by James Dashner. To the uninitiated, it's hard to understand how this flimsy plot could sustain an entire book. In fact, it was so popular he wrote 3 sequels. Readers that can fill in the many unexplained details, will surely enjoy this more. Not having read the text, the movie could barely hold my attention for part 1, so part 2? Uh no thanks. The thought is anything but a-MAZE-zing.
The Skeleton Twins deftly blends savage drama with honest laughs. It's kind of an odd mix, but stars Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader's easygoing familiarity is mixed with such sarcasm, that the irregular tonal shifts work. The highlights of the film are scenes where they just play off one another as a finely tuned comedy machine. Hader's invitation to Wiig to lip-sync Starship's "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" could've come across as supremely cloying. But his exaggerated theatrics and amusing gestures to the music are so dead-on that they almost parody the song. The vignette is so infectious that you can't help but want to join in. The tune was first featured as the theme to the 1987 hit Mannequin. I will no longer associate the upbeat anthem with that romantic comedy anymore. Wiig ultimately succumbs to his charms no matter how hard she tries to resist. We the audience likewise do the same.
The Trip to Italy is more of the same. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are a funny comedy team. Their dueling Michael Caines were a standout in the original. This time however the shtick comes across as a bit desperate. The movie has barely begun and they're already going back that well again. "You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!" Steve Coogan shout at the top of his lungs. The obvious Caine quote from 1969's The Italian Job. Then the pair discuss The Dark Knight Rises and who is less understandable - Tom Hardy as Bane or Christian Bale as Batman. Do you like the impressions? Then I have very good news for you - a whole slew of celebrities are mimicked: Clint Eastwood, Sean Connery, Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins, Hugh Grant, Dustin Hoffman, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, Humphrey Bogart. Some are good (Woody Allen). Others are just awful (Al Pacino). Perhaps that was the point. Most of these are done by Brydon who once again plays the irritant to Coogan's agitated fellow. So how do you say déjà vu in Italian?
Starred Up is extremely solid. The validity of Jonathan Asser's screenplay comes through in every scene. Not just in handling the atmosphere with sincerity, but for extracting genuine emotion. Ben Mendelsohn and Jack O'Connell are extraordinarily good. Their interaction is infused with subtlety and nuance. As his estranged father, Nev tries to give his son some life lessons to help him from becoming a permanent resident there. It's a real father-son relationship as opposed to a metaphorical one. I haven't seen that before. They act the roles to perfection. I suggest a primer on British prison slang prior to watching, however, starting with that title. Starred up refers to young offenders whose conduct is so violent that they're prematurely transferred from a juvenile institution to an adult one. Gwap is money, prison officers are kangas, and to mug off is to show disrespect. All of this makes the dialogue a little inscrutable, but I wouldn't have it any other way. The authenticity is appreciated and it adds to what makes Starred Up the credible drama that it is.
There's no other way to say it. Around the World in 80s Days is nothing more than a bland travelogue. What must've seemed like a grandiose marvel in 1956 doesn't translate to the modern era. Our technologically advanced age makes this once epic period piece seem like an old dated relic. It still has value. Anthropologists should study this as a faded artifact of a bygone era. How this film won the Academy Award for Best Picture must certainly be one of the great anomalies in the Academy's illustrious history. Now reflect on the fact that it beat The King and I, The Ten Commandments and Giant and the win seems even more egregious. But the accolades didn't stop there. It snagged 5 Academy Awards out of its 8 nominations. The mind boggles. The only one it seems remotely worthy of consideration was for Best Cinematography and I would still argue it was up against stiffer competition. David Niven and Cantinflas make an entertaining duo. I liked them and the cinematography is pleasant. Oh and then there's that animated end credits sequence titled "Who was seen in what scene...and who did what" created by Saul Bass. The whimsical cartoon is most delightful thing in the whole production.