Monday, January 25, 2016

In Hot Pursuit of Scorching Fun

The second installment of the Maze Runner franchise that not all is lost, even during the Apocalypse 


ARTH VADER (AV): Faster than I would have thought, we got ourselves another Scorch Trials installment. I was surprised to have enjoyed the first film so much but I quickly forgot all about the campy ‘kids save the world’ story so when this one came out in the summer of 2015, I was like “huh–already?” The film comes hot on the heels of the first Maze Runner and as the first one was surprisingly good, my concern was simply; can the second one maintain form? Not a tall order but I had my doubts. How about you, Ponty? 

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): This film picks up where the last one left off…and like the last one, diverges greatly from the original book it was based on. This was to be expected though since the film adaption of the entire story left the books with the first installment... and will likely continue to the end of the trilogy. At least this film lines up with the first and in that, there is perfect continuity.


AV: Scorch Trials brings back an impressively talented cast of young Maze Runners, as Director Wes Ball expands his world of the and brings us new and compelling details of world that’s no longer ours but has become something else entirely. Let’s face it, Ponty, the acting is no great shakes anywhere in this flick but I don’t know if that’s the fault of the actors. The screenplay tries to involve the viewer and doesn’t fail, while not making a whole lot of linear sense. Still, the story is embraceable and we get so much more out of Scorch Trials than I would have thought, wouldn’t you say sir? 

TP: I wasn’t taken with any of the returning original cast Vader, even though they played their roles adequately (just barley so in some cases), I was more intrigued with the new additions to the cast. Jacob Lofland was particularly interesting in his role as Aris with his quiet demeanor and willingness to get involved. Although I like Aiden Gillen, he seemed to come off as just an alternate version of “Little Finger” (his Game of Thrones role)… worming his way to the WY.K.D throne. Giancarlo Esposito was a surprise and added some spice to the cast with his role as wheeler and dealer, but ultimately a concerned parent looking for a better life. Lastly was the unexpected appearance of Barry Pepper. Although he didn’t have a huge role, I haven’t seen him in awhile and it was good to see him return to the silver screen.


AV: It was hard not to to be impressed by this film’s visual effects. Massive CGI city environments-like the rolling electrical storms and crazy weather, as well as fantastic landscapes and of course (Spoilers!), Zombies. I gotta’ admit my friend, I did NOT see that one coming! Sure I might have if I read the books, but hey, c’mon what is this a library? 

The addition of Zombies, even different types of them, was kind of low hanging fruit from a story-teller’s standpoint but I loved it all the same. Really! Seeing brainless undead hordes chase our Maze-running heroes out of a blasted out skyscraper submerged in sand is one of the most compelling single moments of 2015 effects cinema.

TP: There was no new ground broken, but the effects were still well done and moved the story along for what it was…a giant chase film. With that, there isn’t much that need be done except having stuff pop out at various times coupled with camera play to distort the senses. It works well for what it was intended to do.


AV: Okay, so in the review of the first installment of the Maze Running chronicles, I was left with a number of questions like, why are they there, and who put them there and why are they being watched. Sadly, I’m not sure I have those answers. Yes, I am aware the organization that set up the whole Maze observation dynamic was revealed but, why would ANYONE dedicate such large-scale technological, human, and logistical resources to such experiments? It make no sense to me. But I guess some things just have to hold our suspended belief. It’s my least favorite storytelling component to these movies. What did you think?

TP: Where do I start Vader? Perhaps I’ll start with the lunacy that in the middle of a chase, or while still being in peril, is somehow the perfect opportunity to stop and demand a detailed explanation for why you are running for your life. No? How about splitting up in dangerous and unfamiliar territory that is no doubt riddled with danger? If that wasn’t bad enough, how about leaving a perfectly functioning gun behind so one of your party can commit suicide? Uh... throwing away an empty canteen, so in the off chance you actually do come across more water in the desert, you have no place to store it? What about setting your place to blow up because you are under attack by hostile forces, and you only take ONE of the six or seven guns you have, and leave the rest. Oh… my personal favorite is coming to a fork in the road and deciding to explore the scary creepy looking tendrils on the wall and follow them back to a place of horror… and continue to explore! These are just some of the idiocy and lunacy that simply killed this film for me.


AV: This film left the audience in a bit of a cliff-hanger so we are more than likely going to get another installment. I am quite interested in seeing how the story raps up in the next chapter. The culmination of robotic monsters (from the first film) and ravenous, black-blooded Zombies in film two makes me anxious to see if those two (adversaries) go to war or if there is a third terror unleashed on our heroes Runners as they head back for the final showdown.

TP: There is going to be a third film. In fact I have heard that the last film might even be split into two films ala “Hunger Games.” All I can say is if it is more of the same, I will probably be just as annoyed watching it as I was watching this film. 


ARTH VADER Rates Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials: With a great–if not predictable–final battle wrought with tears, feel-good heroics and some good, old-fashioned Hollywood explosions and gun play, you’ll enjoy Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials. I dare say even better than the first, this film does a solid job of engaging the audience and I need to re-iterate, for any Zombie-lovers out there, this film has got the goods. Well-paced, loaded with good-looking CGI and a story that’s good enough to move things along, I’d line up seven (7) Busted Blocks and drop them into a monster-laden, zombie-infested wasteland and watch the good time roll.

THE PONTIFICATOR rates Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials:  Maybe it’s hubris when I say that I think I’m just too intelligent for this film, but when nearly every scene has me scratching my head wondering what the heck the characters are thinking when they do some of the dumb stuff they do…I have to wonder if people actually wrote this film or was it a room full of chimpanzees as part of some vile experiment. This film seems to have gotten lost in its own maze of idiocy and could only manage to find five (5) busted blocks

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials: 6 / 10 Busted Blocks

Friday, January 8, 2016

San Andreas A Real Disaster

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is literally on shaky ground in this forgettable disaster tryst


ARTH VADER (AV): In loving memory of all the great disaster flicks like Twister, Towering Inferno, Tidal Wave, Dante’s Peak, 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, and Armageddon, San Andreas is the doomsday-eque tale of “the big one.” The supposed impending mega-quake along the San Andreas Fault line that will decidedly re-shape the west coast as parts of California are believed to likely fall into the Pacific. These films are fun, fruity fiction that play on our fears while trying to move us to tears. Thoughts, oh Pontificatorious one? 

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): There is a formula for films like this and the producers of this film stuck to it. Now, doing so doesn’t make this a great film, but it certainly made it a predictable one. If continuity were following a specific way formula for a hero/disaster film, then this film stuck to that…to the letter.


AV: Paul “The Rhino” Giamatti plays a decidedly intelligent role of a geologist who has the unfortunate burden of knowing what’s about to happen and in turn loose his partner (along with about 30 million Californians) for his troubles. The lovely and talented Carla Gugino all but wastes her time in this film. Even Ioan “No-longer Mr Fantastic” Gruffudd plays an unlikely super-industrialist for no reason whatsoever. Director Brad Peyton’s epic cinematography is misplaced in such an Epic flop and well, I won’t even mention the ‘acting.’

TP: Make no mistake this is a film about “The Rock” (Dwayne Johnson) and he does exactly what I expected of him…bigger than life with plenty of flexing. That said, the supporting cast does well, given the material. Carla Gugino (last seen by me in “Wayward Pines”) is the estranged ex-wife. Ioan Gruffudd (last seen by me in “Forever”) is the new boyfriend with loads of cash, but very little courage. Paul Giamatti, my favorite of the supporting cast, is the scientist that has important information, that nobody else knows. Although there was a lot of unused talent here, the direction of the film was more predictable than knowing submerging yourself in water will make you wet.


AV: Nothing says big-budget summer blockbuster than a massive visual effects budget on film devoid of story, value or merit. The ridiculous Tsunami, vast scope of giant cities buckling under massive aftershocks. On-screen, the visuals keep the audience from dozing or walking out wouldn’t you say old friend? 

TP: With a film this predictable, effects is really all there is to it. While the effects were great, there really was nothing new presented here to make up for the lack of everything else. Wanton destruction has been done before, the trick is to do it better than anyone else ever has…and this film missed that mark. 


AV: Its hard to consider a film like this anything other than eye-candy. Characters appear and disappear without any reason or explanation. We’re given little-to-no opportunity for character motivations (other than survival) and improbable scenarios arise that we simply take at face value (like how its ok to steal or randomly ‘borrow’ any boat plane or truck you need to get around during a giant Earthquake). 

Look in all fairness, movies like this don’t deserve our individual or collective brain power, but that doesn’t mean bad movies get a pass for spending $150 million dollars. C’mon Hollywood, you’re better than that. 

TP: If you are a huge fan of The Rock like I am, then you will give this film a pass regardless of all it’s shortcomings…the greatest of which is the fact you can tell exactly what is going to happen before it happens…in every…single…scene. I said earlier there is a formula for films like this. Great hero/disaster films tend to deviate from this formula in some way to give some surprise to the audience. The makers of this film didn’t even bother with that. As a result, I sat there like a precog for the entire film with the only high point being my fandom for The Rock, and all the cheesiness with which they presented his character.


AV: The big travesty is that more big budget, brainless boob movies like this are sure to follow. No one asks for them, no one wants them, but we keep going so they keep getting made. (sigh)

TP: Nope…don’t even bother because I will predict that one too. It will go like this: The Rock goes to another area, an earthquake (or other natural disaster) happens, he saves his family (or whatever supporting characters are presented) with all the non-surprises and cliche of this film, the end.


ARTH VADER rates San Andreas: The saving grace of this film is in its cornball cheesiness and the sheer ridiculousness of the screenplay and the film’s overall premise. But if you are so inclined, buy some popcorn at your local dollar store, nuke up a bowl or two, rent or stream San Andreas and get ready to get ready for well, not very much. That’s why I’m digging deep into my well of generosity and offer two (2)  Busted Blocks out of ten on the Busted Block scale. One for the visuals and the other as bribe to promise these producers never to make this kind of schlock ever again. 

THE PONTIFICATOR rates San Andreas:  The only thing that even remotely gives this film a decent rating (such as it is) is the fact I’m one of the biggest Dwayne Johnson fans on the planet and a sucker for gratuitous destruction. Other than that, the predictability of this film makes it just a giant two hour cliche barely able to destroy five (5) busted blocks.

San Andreas: 3.5 / 10 Busted Blocks