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Film Review: Into the Woods

Who knew Chris Pine could sing? Certainly not me when I started watching the film version of Into the Woods knowing only that it starred the Cup Song girl, Meryl Streep as a witch, and Johnny Depp as an insane wonderland creature as per usual. Those were the reasons I sat down to watch, and those were the least of the reasons why I loved it!

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Musicals. You either love them or hate them. I’ve met few people who are indifferent toward movies where actors spontaneously burst into song, and Into the Woods is a musical. Unlike many of my peers, I spent my childhood watching musicals. The old-fashioned kind like My Fair Lady and Showboat, Oklahoma and Camelot. While other kids were singing along to Spice Girls, I was singing full renditions of songs from Oliver and Annie! I was also part of a stage arts academy, frequently performing in musicals and Broadway-style shows, particularly all the Andrew Lloyd Webber stuff. Point is, I grew up on musicals and still have a passion for them to this day with one of my all time favorite films being Across the Universe. When my favourite SFF genre and music combine, I am truly in heaven! (I really should write a review of Repo, the Genetic Opera *makes a note*).

So, Into the Woods scored points just for being a musical, then it scored additional points for presenting a dark and sometimes off-color twist on beloved Disney characters. If you’re unfamiliar with the original Sondheim stage production, do take note that despite the innocuous looking poster and the fact that this is technically a Disney movie, this is in no way a children’s movie. Well, kids could probably watch it but they wouldn’t (hopefully) catch some of the darker and more subtle things going on in this story.

The film, like the play, is an unapologetic play on fairytale tropes, frequently teetering into parody. The premise boils down to an old adage: be careful what you wish for. In this case, the whole ensemble cast should’ve heeded that warning but of course they don’t and so we get this fantastical romp featuring Little Red (the Riding Hood part implied), Anna Kendrick as Cinderella and McKenzie Mauzy as Rapunzel. Emily Blunt plays the role of a baker’s wife who inadvertently kicks off the entire story, Meryl Streep plays the witch, and Johnny Depp has a brief but super creepy cameo as the Big Bad Wolf. Also, Chris Pine plays Prince Eyebrows, er… Charming, and did I mention this guy can actually sing?

While the plot is delightfully silly in a typical fairytale kind of way, what really pulls this whole story together is the music. The songs are fantastic! If you are unfamiliar with musicals and the musical motifs they often employ, some of the finer points of humor might escape you, but for any musical aficionados or musos in the know, the score is rife with snark and tongue-in-cheek moments poking fun at the ‘serious’ musicals. The lyrics are also incredibly clever and liberally sprinkled with innuendo. I’m a little sad they cut out some of the more violent and sexy content from the stage original, but I guess they really wanted that PG rating for the film.

This brings me to Depp’s cameo, and what has got to be the most bizarre and uncomfortable few minutes of the film. Depp is brilliant, of course, and is perfectly creepy as the wolf who hungers for more than a literal nibble on the young Little Red. I’m surprised the less-than-subtle innuendo in the relationship between Wolf and Little Red even made it into this film, but I’m glad it did because the entire story is all about re-imagining these fairytales in dark and twisted ways. No, the word I’m looking for is sinister and Into the Woods has sinister in spades even when it’s cleverly disguised with humor.

I loved this film and spent a good portion of it in stitches. The problems arose when the movie actually wanted you take it seriously and tried to throw some emotional punches. Around the 1.20 minute mark, I checked to see how much was left of the film – never a good sign. It was around about here when the story tried to take itself seriously that I wanted things to wrap-up in the unhappily ever after direction the story seemed to be headed. Nope, we got another forty minutes of story that wasn’t really necessary and the Rapunzel storyline kind of got brushed aside, which did not please me because McKenzie Mauzy was lovely and deserved more screen time. So did her prince – Charming’s little brother!

Up until the 1.20 mark this film would’ve got 10 ink splats from me, but that last half hour dragged. I actually paused to walk the dog, read email and make tea, before finally finishing the thing, and while I did enjoy the rest of the songs, the same sense of black humor and tongue-in-cheek quipping seemed to disappear, leaving the ending feel a lot more traditional considering the rest of the film. That said, this was still a fun – if a little nutty – movie that I would be happy to sit through the first 90 minutes of again. The cast sings incredibly welland the music was suitably cheesy, adding to the parody vibe.

The other glaring problem I had with the film was the lack of diversity. Is there a rule somewhere that says when re-imagining Disney stories, all main characters must be white? One might argue the setting is a pseudo-Germanic Grimm-esque world and therefore PoC are an unlikely find, but that argument holds no water considering this is a ‘re-imagining’. How about conjuring up some PoC there Disney? The lack of color is made even more conspicuous by its absence when Cinderella walks into the castle past the one and only black person in the entire film. Including the profile of a black man for all of 2 seconds in a 2-hour long movie otherwise peopled by whites, is not diversity. It’s not even tokenism. It’s… bizarre. How refreshing it would’ve been to have a pair of black princes instead of Chris ‘Captain Kirk’ Pine and his blond-haired, blue-eyed little brother, but alas, I fear I ask too much from Hollywood.

Overall, I recommend this movie to fans of musicals who don’t mind off-color humor and are looking for something a little unusual and purely for fun. This gets 4/5 ink splats from me.

4 inksplats

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2015 in Reviews

 

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Book Review: The Martian

Well, I did it. I finally gave into the hype and succumbed to the curiosity when I discovered the movie version of this book would be directed by Ridley Scott (the guy behind brilliant films like White Squall and Gladiator – also the man behind the train wreck that is Prometheus:/ ) Scott either does things brilliantly, or abysmally, and I wanted to read the book before I eventually got around to seeing the movie, which of course I will because MARS!! Anyway, I read the book in less than 72 hours so here are my thoughts about it… martian

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first men to walk on the surface of Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first man to die there.

It started with the dust storm that holed his suit and nearly killed him, and that forced his crew to leave him behind, sure he was already dead. Now he’s stranded millions of miles from the nearest human being, with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive–and even if he could get word out, his food would be gone years before a rescue mission could arrive. Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to get him first.

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills–and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit–he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

I don’t think I have ever read a hard sci-fi book and enjoyed it. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever managed to read a hard sci-fi book without giving up at some point out of sheer boredom or frustration. Thus, I did not have high hopes when I started The Martian. This novel starts off with a bang, but quickly gets bogged down in science, fascinating science, but I read to connect with and live vicariously through characters, not learn how to separate hydrogen from hydrazine. Also, the book starts out in epistolary format where the narrative is exposition-only journal entries from said martian in question and I’m not a fan of the Dear Diary style. I’ll admit, I almost gave up, but then there was a break in the journal entries and the scene changed from Mars to Earth. Saying more than that would be giving away too much and this is one time I don’t want to give away any spoilers.

I am so glad I didn’t give up on this book! Once Weir starts giving us more than just Mark Watney’s journal entries, the story really gets going and I could not book this down! Weir is an absolute master at creating suspense while working with what becomes an unconventional narrative style. I loved it, and I have definitely learned something about the writing craft having read this book.

This book is science heavy, but it’s always presented in a conversational style made more engaging by Watney’s sarcasm and black humor. After a while, I found myself enjoying the hard sci-fi aspect of the book even if it did require me to pay extra attention to what I was reading. I struggled to read this book at night when I was tired. I switched to reading it during the day when I was fully caffeinated and well, I finished the book in a single sitting. Now I know how to approach more tech heavy novels in the future. Science aside, the author does a fantastic job of making Watney a likable guy who you can’t help but root for. The auxiliary characters that come into play are also presented in fun and engaging ways that had me grinning through most of the book.

What you see is what you get with this novel. It’s a survival story and reads like the screenplay for a movie. Not a Terrence Mallick or Darren Aronofsky film, no, but something action-orientated I could imagine Spielberg or hey, Ridley Scott, directing. The last hundred pages are some of the most tension-driven, page-turning reading I’ve ever experienced!

So that’s the good: well written, expertly paced, snappy dialogue, great characters, good science (not all of it accurate apparently, but more accurate than most) and absolutely entertaining.

Now for the bad…

This is an intellectual read, not an emotional one. Despite the adrenaline rush I had while reading this novel, once I’d turned the final page and thought about it, I realized there wasn’t really much to the story. The author focuses so much on the science that I think he forgot some of the human aspects. You’d think that for a guy alone on Mars he’d be a little more introspective, get a little philosophical (heck, religious even) and ponder life with a little more depth. Of course, this might be happening off-page because all we’re getting from Mark is what he chooses to record in the journal that will be read by others, but it still felt a little… empty, soulless even. When it comes to survival stories, I prefer the more introspective stuff ala Christopher McCandless’ story as told by Jon Krakauer in Into the Wild, or even the 127 Hours memoir, Between a Rock and a Hard Place. Granted, Weir is writing fiction, but I still wanted more, something that would leaving me with more than Martian physics to mull over once I turned the last page. This story could’ve been so much more, but Weir admits on his Facebook page that his intention is to entertain and not make a statement. The Martian is certainly entertaining, but it is little more than. It is not a story that will haunt me and I’m probably going to have forgotten much of it by the time the film comes out in November.

In conclusion, I recommend this book to anyone who doesn’t think they’ll like hard sci-fi or are looking for an entertaining and engaging read that won’t tug on the heart-strings too much. I have to give this 4.5/5 ink splats because while I was reading, I was fully immersed and couldn’t put the book down. My disillusion and disappointment has only come after the fact, so here you go Book, but I do think you could’ve been better.

4.5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2015 in Reviews

 

Film Review: Dracula Untold

I’m a total sucker for vampires (no pun intended) especially when they involve the King of Blood-drinkers, Lord Dracula. Despite my better judgement, I have often found myself watching movies I know are going to be terrible because they’re about my favourite monsters. As soon as I heard about this film, it was a foregone conclusion that I would eventually end up watching it because a) vampires b) The Bard from The Hobbit and c) Vlad Tsepes, better known as Dracula. So, I finally got to see this movie and here are my thoughts about it.

*Mild spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned*

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The trailer gave me chills – most probably thanks to that incredibly cool song by Lorde – but also because it seemed to give Dracula a more heroic role instead of having him in skulking in the shadows. I was really excited to see Dracula some into his own and be unapologetic for being a badass. Having scene the film and rewatching the trailer, I’m disappointed because there are scenes and details shown in the trailer that just don’t appear in the film. Other than that, the trailer also shows some of the coolest parts of the movie – typical – thus rendering the actual film experience somewhat anti-climactic.

Now onto the film itself. Of course, it starts off with a voice over and cinematography that seems heavily influenced by Zack Snyder, ala 300 style, only somewhat less impressive. Considering this is the director’s first feature film (according to IMDB) he still did a fairly decent job and I found the film rather pleasing to the eye, if utterly predictable. The predictability of this film might be because I’m overly familiar with these tropes as a writer myself or might be because just about every super-hero and monster movie has employed a variation of these ideas in recent times. Aside from the voice over, my biggest peeve with this film is the glaring historical inaccuracies. I’m married to a Transylvanian, I have been to Romania, and have been to the real Castle Bran (the legendary Dracula castle that is more fortress than Disney.) With every iteration of the Dracula story that gives the monster-legend a historical context – like this film tries to – I always hold out vain hope that they’ll get it right. While this film does build upon a foundation of fact – yes, Romanian children were given to the Turks and used as child soldiers – the history is so watered down and over-simplified. Basically, it gets the Hollywood treatment, and so does our anti-hero Dracula. Can’t have a hero being too evil, now can we?

Dracula in this film is a man with an inner darkness – pretty much Vlad’s penchant for impaling his enemies – and turns to even darker means (does it get any darker than Tywin Lannister?? Charles Dance is in this!) in order to save his immediate family from the Turkish threat. We are repeatedly told about the darkness within Vlad without really being shown it – feeling nothing about how much blood you shed on a battlefield isn’t the same as being a sadistic bastard who revels in eviscerating children, and that’s what I wanted, a film so much darker and scarier than this. Most of the time I wanted to give the guy a hug and tell him everything would be all right, not run screaming in fear. Also, they gave Vlad some pretty awesome superpowers, which he then absolutely squanders and seems to spend more time sulking than kicking Turkish butt. Several times I wanted to reach into the screen and slap him upside the head for wasting time. The climax of this film could’ve been averted had Dracula not dilly-dallied for no apparent reason. Sigh. I guess they needed to manufacture the tension somehow so the anti-hero could reluctantly step-in and save the day by doing the wrong thing for the right reasons.

I saw the ending coming a mile away and predicted the outcome almost exactly for the historical part of the film. Then something unexpected and pretty amazing happens, and the last few minutes of the film are definitely the best, giving me hope for what might come next in this franchise, if a sequel ever gets the green light.

In short, if you’re looking for the Gothic romance of blood-drinking and velvet-clad vampires, you’re better off watching Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Interview with a Vampire. If you’re looking for a more historical take on the vampire legend then you’re definitely better off watching Dark Prince (a criminally underrated series about Vlad Tsepes – still taking liberties with the facts though), and if you want swashbuckling, monster-fighting adventure, you’re probably better off watching Van Helsing. Given the slew of vampire movies and an abundance of those dealing with Stoker’s villain, Dracula Untold simply doesn’t bring anything new or exciting to the table. While it isn’t a terrible way to spend 92 minutes (there are some fun scenes, there’s also some artistic camera work, and did I mention the Luke Evans eye-candy?), I think the film would’ve been far more interesting had it started where it ends. 2.5/5 ink splats from me.

2.5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2015 in Reviews, Video Reviews

 

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Book Review: Annihilation

To be honest I might never have picked up this were it not for the science fiction book club I belong to via Meetup. I had never heard of Jeff VanderMeer and didn’t know a thing about this book before I started reading, and that was probably a good thing.

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Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.

This is the twelfth expedition.

Their group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.

They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them, and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another, that change everything.

That is a very long blurb for a book that’s barely over 200 pages. Also, that last paragraph makes the story sound way more thriller-esque than it actually is. And that cover is just awful!

When I started reading this book, I assumed it had been published in the 1960s or 70s – that cover doesn’t help much either. The style was reminiscent of that era, in that the narration was exclusively ‘tell’ with absolutely no ‘show.’ The reason for this is that the story is actually one long journal entry written by the biologist. This just didn’t work for me. I felt nothing for the characters and found the main character – who describes herself as detached and emotionally withdrawn – impossible to relate to. Consequently, I didn’t care at all what happened to her or the rest of the team. What kept me turning the pages was the premise – there’s not really a plot – and wanting to know what Area X was and how it had come to be.

Despite only being 200 pages, this book felt long especially since there isn’t really much plot, more like a character meandering, trying to understand both the external landscape and her own internal one. This was where the story became more interesting for me and to a large extent, I felt that the story was an allegory: the biologist wasn’t researching an alien landscape so much as trying to understand herself and why her marriage had fallen apart, coming to terms with aspects of a troubled childhood etc. As a metaphor, the story is layered and nuanced, but the last chapter seems to undermine this idea when the biologist has a sudden revelation about what Area X is and how it might’ve come to be. I think the story would’ve been much better with a less literal interpretation.

I enjoyed this book for its unashamed weirdness and am still curious about what Area X really is and what’s happening in the background regarding the institute that keeps sending in these research expeditions. I do think, however, that this would’ve worked so much better as a longer short story. Despite being a short novel, it just meandered too much and became repetitive although never quite boring, just a little tedious. Had I known the writer was a Nebula winner and Hugo nominee, and that this book was published in 2014, I might’ve had higher expectations and been a little less impressed. Since I only discovered that after the fact though, I’m not going to let it affect my rating of the novel.

If you enjoy report-style science fiction that ventures into the absurd then you will probably like this book very much. While I’m not in a hurry to read more in this series, I am definitely keen to read other works by this author. It gets 3.5/5 ink splats from me.

3.5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2015 in Reviews

 

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Video Reviews – Part 1

Hey everyone, Dave here!

Yep, FINALLY, I hear you say! ;-) No worries – I know I’ve been away for a while, but I’ve figured out a way to be able to review the books I’ve read while keeping up the pace of the writing of my second novel – and this is it! :-)

In part one of my new Video Review series, I take a look at Joe Hill’s ‘NOS4R2′ and Kate Griffin’s ‘The Midnight Mayor’ – links after the vid!

NOS4R2: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes and Noble, Exclusive Books. Joe Hill’s website.

The Midnight Mayor: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes and Nobel, Exclusive Books. Kate Griffin’s website.

In part two, I talk about Benedict Jacka’s ‘Cursed’, John Lange’s ‘Zero Cool‘, Andrea Sokoloff’s ‘The Harrowing‘ and Mark Lawrence’s ‘Prince of Thorns’! Again, links after the vid. :-)

Cursed: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes and Noble, Exclusive Books. Benedict Jacka’s website.

Zero Cool: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes and Noble, Exclusive Books. Titan Books‘ and Hard Case Crime‘s website.

The Harrowing: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes and Noble, Exclusive Books. Andrea Sokoloff’s website.

Prince of Thorns: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes and Noble, Exclusive Books. Mark Lawrence’s website.

 

There we go, hope you’ve enjoyed the video – this will be how I’ll be doing things from now on, so look for my next review-video next week. :-)

Until then, and as always,

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2015 in Reviews, Video Reviews

 

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Book Review: Sing Me Your Scars

Firstly, an enormous THANK YOU to Apex Publications for giving me the ARC of this title and letting me have the privilege of reviewing what is a most outstanding short story collection from an author I think every speculative fiction fan should have on their radar.

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Sometimes a thread pulled through the flesh is all that holds you together. Sometimes the blade of a knife or the point of a nail is the only way you know you’re real. When pain becomes art and a quarter is buried deep within in you, all you want is to be seen, to have value, to be loved. But love can be fragile, folded into an origami elephant while you disappear, carried on the musical notes that build a bridge, or woven into an illusion so real, so perfect that you can fool yourself for a little while. Paper crumples, bridges fall, and illusions come to an end. Then you must pick up the pieces, stitch yourself back together, and shed your fear, because that is when you find out what you are truly made of and lift your voice, that is when you Sing Me Your Scars.

In her first collection of short fiction, Damien Angelica Walters weaves her lyrical voice through suffering and sorrow, teasing out the truth and discovering hope.

It’s rare that a blurb truly does a book justice and this one definitely does, capturing the essence of this collection in as poetic a way as the stories themselves are written.

Sing Me Your Scars is a collection of speculative short stories – from two page flash fiction to longer, more substantial pieces. While every story is its own, they all share common themes.The one that stood out the most for me is that of abuse and the painful journey victims must endure in order to overcome the damage inflicted upon, to take ownership of their lives and regain lost agency. There were several stories dealing with abuse, but each was rendered in such a unique way that the recurring theme never got stale. Walters explores the various forms of suffering and how this affects different people through poetic prose and vivid imagery, at once alarming and exquisite. I will, however, say that this collection tends more toward the horror genre and is probably not for the squeamish, or for those who may be triggered by reading about the trauma associated with abuse.

One of the biggest problems I usually have when reading short story collections, is being irritated that the story I’m enjoying ends too soon. I often experience a sort of literary whiplash reading anthologies and collections because I feel catapulted from one story to the next without being able to truly connect to the characters or settings. I never experienced this in Sing Me Your Scars. While there were definitely many stories I would happily read as novels, the continuity of style provides seamless transitions between stories which focus more on character and imagery than setting and plot. That’s one of the reasons I loved this book so much. I felt immersed in the story world from cover to cover despite the constant change of characters, countries and even eras. I was also delighted to see the inclusion of LGBT+ characters in this collection.

There are two writers I hold in extremely high regard and am happy to call my favourites: Poppy Z Brite and Neil Gaiman. I have read and loved short story collections by both these authors and I would happily shelve Sing Me Your Scars right alongside Wormwood and Fragile Things. Like Brite, Walters brings beauty to the grotesque with devastatingly exquisite images of both the brutal and macabre. This is a skill I envy as an author and am definitely going to be rereading passages from Sing Me Your Scars as I have reread passages from Lost Souls and Wormwood. Like Gaiman, Walters weaves subtle magic through her stories, sometimes tantalizing with a mere mention of the bizarre while the story remains firmly rooted in the real. Other times, Walters creates a lush fantasy world in which the reader becomes quickly immersed despite the limited word count of these stories. I am in awe of this author’s ability to achieve so much in so few words.

Until I read this collection, my favourite short story was, of course, one by Gaiman (‘Cold Colors’ from Smoke & Mirrors), but Girl, with Coin by Walters absolutely blew me away and left me reeling for days (I still can’t stop thinking about this story!). Of all the brilliant, beautiful and powerful stories in this collection, Girl, with Coin had an immediate and lasting impact, and this story has just become a new favourite – I loved it even more than works by Brite! – tied with Cold Colors and ear-marked as a story to which I plan to return time and again.

If you enjoy your speculative fiction dark and introspective, exquisite and chilling, beautiful and bloody, then this is the collection for you. I cannot recommend it enough. 5/5 glorious ink splats for this amazing book!

5 inksplats

If you’d like to find out more about the author, please head over to my blog to read an interview with Damien Angelica Walters about Sing Me Your Scars and her forthcoming novel, Paper Tigers.

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2015 in Reviews

 

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Film Review: The Maze Runner

Firstly, I know this film was based on a beloved book and I have not read that book, so this review is based purely on the movie version. Also, there are going to be a lot of spoilers…

maze runner

*Warning: There be Spoilers!*

 

Despite having not read the books, I admit that it was knowing this film was based on a dystopian YA series that made me want to watch the film in the first place, because I’m a total sucker for these stories.

The Maze Runner starts off strong with NO VOICE-OVER!! (does the happy dance). I braced myself for the voice-over prologue explaining the way the world worked, but it never came and I was immediately more intrigued because of this. The film throws us right into the action where our teenage MC wakes up to find himself in a cage, shipped off to a mysterious glade populated by other adolescent males. This has the potential to be all very Lord of the Flies-ish and I anticipated the story to head in that direction. But not so much…

We discover that the boys who wake up in the glade have no memories of their life beyond the walls of their rather picturesque prison except for remembering their name. Convenient and I’m not sure this can be credibly medically explained but okay, I’ll go with it. Second, we discover that the boys have established a mostly self-sufficient community that is extremely well-structured and ordered despite being run and populated by hormonal teenage boys. These boys are prisoners in the glade and have tried just about everything to fine their way out of the surrounding maze. The kicker is that this maze is only open during the day and the huge, imposing gates close every night to keep mysterious nasties out of the glade and curious boys in it. So ‘maze runners’ spend the daylight hours trying to run and map the maze in the hopes of one day getting out. It’s not that simple though, obviously.

Thomas, our MC who remembers a little more than just his name but can’t really make sense of it, being a curious lad starts to question everything in the glade as he should. The answers to his questions boil down to: we’ve tried everything else, the only way out of the maze is through. This is problematic because despite being able to build fairly sophisticated housing structures, including watch towers and trees houses, these boys never think to build scaffolding to help them scale the walls of the maze and approach the problem with an aerial view. The reason for this? The vines only go half way up the walls (please consult the above image which was an official movie poster and take note of the vine placement.) Okay, movie, you clearly want these boys to have to run through the maze. Fine. But I do think they could’ve come up with a better reason for it. Anyway…

Thomas, possessing all the qualities of an intrepid YA hero, starts challenging the status quo and things start going wrong in the glade. At this point, the film really wanted to be a zombie movie but didn’t quite get there. Apparently, the nasty creatures which inhabit the maze at night are suddenly active during the day. A sting from one of these creatures turns the unlucky stingee into a rabid, zombie-esque monster and of course panic ensues. I anticipated a lot more Lord of the Flies like divisiveness in the camp when their leader gets stung and there are a few minor dust-ups – some pushing and shoving – but nothing more than that, and I didn’t buy it one little bit. These are teenage boys in a highly stressful environment, not zen masters! I also wanted to see more of that moral grayness that arises when good people do bad things for potentially the right reasons, but our MC is almost boring he’s so good and decent about everything – even accepting punishment for basically being brave from the jerk of the group far too good-naturedly. To be honest, I found Thomas a tad dull and lifeless. More bad stuff happens and Thomas proves he’s a hero by selflessly putting himself in harms way, running into the maze as it’s closing for the night to help his friend. Fine, but then a terrifying flight from the scorpion-like, semi-organic, mostly robotic creatures ensues and it is shown repeatedly that these creatures can scale the walls – so why have they never scaled the walls at night and terrorized the glade? If they’re programmed not to hurt the boys, why the sudden change in MO? WHY IS ANY OF THIS HAPPENING!? I actually might’ve been grateful for a voice-over explaining some of this to me.

Also, considering this is a camp full of boys, some of whom have been there for years, there is absolutely no discussion about sex or sexuality. It was conspicuous by its absence and was made even more conspicuous by its absence when a girl arrives in their midst.

It’s abundantly clear from the get go that there are external forces controlling the situation and manipulating the boys’ circumstances in the glade, so what person (presuming the external forces are human of course) sends a girl into the midst of an all boy camp? What on earth were they hoping to achieve? With the arrival of the girl, I expected a lot of chest bashing, awkwardness, maybe some lewd looks or comments, or at least some comments about the fact that there was now a girl in their midst but nope, the boys are as passive as ever. After three years of this sort of isolation with no memories of a previous life including no memories of morality or societal norms, I just don’t buy the almost genteel way in which this situation was handled. It’s all very disappointing and unbelievable. I couldn’t help but think back to that fabulous New Zealand-made series called The Tribe where teenagers are left to rule the world and the type of society that becomes. That felt authentic. This glade business? Not so much.

At least the girl’s presence seems to be the catalyst for change and one night, the gates don’t close, meaning the big bad nasties get to tear loose through the camp, which is the final straw for Thomas and crew to find their way out of the maze once and for all. Suffice it to say, they do in a somewhat improbable way, but okay. The explanation they’re given when they reach the control center presumably set up to monitor the glade and manipulate the goings-on, is that the sun has scorched the earth and people are dying. With the future of humanity in jeopardy, the best solution the government could come up with was to stick a bunch of boys together in a glade and conduct increasingly brutal psychological experiments on them, hoping these kids would somehow prove themselves strong enough to survive, thereby proving there was hope for humanity. What the what? So, we’re running low on people and our solution is to systematically maim and murder our future generation because if kids can’t defend themselves against giant robot scorpions with a zombie sting, you’re right, the world is totally screwed. I just couldn’t even at this point, but wait… presumably government agents swoop in at exactly the right time to save these kids from the institution – now defunct considering all the people controlling the glade are dead, thanks to those same goons now swooping in to rescue the kids. Confused yet? I was! How about those government dudes go save the kids still trapped in the glade considering they have flipping HELICOPTERS and could easily have landed AT ANY TIME within the glade to airlift these kids to safety. Also, what’s with the morbid fascination with watching kids die or killing each other in gruesome ways (I’m looking at you Hunger Games).

But the real kicker comes at the very end as Thomas and crew – minus a few members, because of course we needed Thomas to shed a few tears to prove he’s human despite his apparent dissociation from everything that’s happening to him – fly off in the chopper to apparent safety. The film ends with a scene showing the maze mastermind – who we saw murdered a few moments ago – hale and hearty and planning to move the escapees onto the second phase of the trials. Trials for what? Given the amount of sand, I’m guessing the sun did cook the Earth, or perhaps we’re in the Sahara? But if all that was true about the sun and the imminent demise of humanity, why is the government killing children!?!?

This film was incredibly well done – the CGI was fantastic and the cinematography wonderful. It was visually appealing and the soundtrack was great too. The acting wasn’t bad, even if the actor playing Thomas wasn’t terribly exciting. He might’ve doing a great job of recreating the character from the book, but he came across as almost apathetic in the film. What failed most miserably for me was the premise, so basically the entire story. A few weeks after watching this movie, I’m still trying to figure out the why of it all, and without that I don’t know if I should care. Also, where were the rest of the girls? What was the point of having an all boy group, other than to make the story a ‘boy’ story? I just don’t get it. Maybe I missed something. Maybe the movie failed utterly to adapt a brilliant book, but judging the film as it stands, I’m really not impressed. 1.5/5 ink splats from me.

1.5 splats

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2015 in Reviews

 

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