Archive for the ‘Film Review’ Category

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This month’s book club pick is James Dashner‘s 2009 novel The Maze Runner. A film adaptation directed by Wes Ball was released in 2014.

The film opens in pitch blackness. Amongst the shadows we can see a young man traveling upwards in a metal elevator cage. He is breathing deeply and the sounds of the metal elevator are clanging. The sound design and visuals in this opening provide a strong start to the film.

The young man in the elevator is sixteen-year-old Thomas, portrayed by Dylan O’Brien (MTV’s Teen Wolf).

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Thomas (Dylan O’Brien)

Thomas has no memory and soon learns that he is part of a group of teen boys that have been sent to live in this artificial environment known as ‘The Glade’ (shot on location in a lush and green Louisiana).

Alby (Aml Ameen) leads this group of boys with his right hand man Newt (Game of Thrones’ Thomas Brodie-Sangster). It is Brodie-Sangster that has the difficult task as an actor to deliver the backstory. This exposition does slow the pace at the beginning of the film.

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Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and Alby (Aml Ameen)

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Minho (Ki Hong Lee), Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster)

From Newt and Thomas’ buddy Chuck (Blake Cooper) we learn that each boy in the community has his own role that he does in order to keep the society functioning. The boys’ ultimate goal is to solve a maze built beyond huge grey stone walls that are over a hundred feet high. Each night the entrance to the maze closes protecting the boys from the Grievers, a horrific monster that is a mix of metal and flesh that can bite, sting and kill.

The Runners, who are lead by Minho (Ki Hong Lee) run through the maze mapping it out.

Everything changes when a mysterious girl, Teresa (Skins‘ Kaya Scodelario), arrives in the elevator car. The boys were not expecting another delivery for another month – the pattern in the Glade. Teresa is the first girl to arrive and she will be the last.

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Teresa (Kaya Scodelario)

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Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) and Thomas (Dylan O’Brien)

Teresa and Thomas are somehow connected to the mystery of the Glade. The group will need to work together in order to escape the maze.

They have an obstacle in the form of Gally (Will Poulter, from We’re the Millers) who clashes with Thomas from day 1.

The true villain is Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson) the head of the mysterious organisation that has trapped these boys in this artificial world. Clarkson brings a presence of authority in her very limited screen time.

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Gally (Will Poulter)

First time feature director Wes Ball does a good job at encapsulating the spirit of Dashner’s novel. There are some changes, some which work for the better. For example, there is no telepathic communication between Thomas and Teresa – that would have been cheesy!

There is an open-ending, which sets it up for the sequel Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, which was released in 2015. The third film Maze Runner: The Death Cure is due for release in 2018.

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This month’s book club pick is Ransom Riggs‘ 2011 novel Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. A film adaptation directed by Tim Burton (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland) was released last month.

When I heard that Tim Burton was directing Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children I was pretty excited as the gothic fantasy world is Burton’s speciality.

Eva Green, who appeared in Burton’s Dark Shadows portrays the titular character Miss Peregrine brilliantly. Green does not appear in the film until around the 30 minute mark so the audience follows the journey of the awkwardly shy, wide-eyed sixteen-year-old Jacob Portman, played by Asa Butterfield (The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang, Hugo, Ender’s Game).

Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) and Jacob (Asa Butterfield)

Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) and Jacob (Asa Butterfield)

Jacob’s grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp), a World War II veteran and Jewish refugee, would tell him stories from his own childhood featuring flesh eating monsters and children with the most peculiar abilities.

Following his grandfather’s mysterious death Jacob finds a letter postmarked from Cairnholm Island addressed to his grandfather from Miss Peregrine.

Jacob convinces his parents (Chris O’Dowd and Kim Dickens) to let him go to Cairnholm Island, off the coast of Wales, for the summer. Jacob’s psychiatrist Dr. Golan (Allison Janney) approves of the idea, so Jacob and his father set off. While there Jacob explores the island and searches for answers about his grandfather’s past.

Samuel J. Jackson portrays the villain of the piece – Barron, the leader of the Wights and Hollows. He too has a peculiar ability.

British stage and screen legends Dame Judi Dench (Miss Esmeralda Avocet) and Rupert Everett (John Lemmon) also co-star.

Barron (Samuel L. Jackson)

Barron (Samuel L. Jackson)

Miss Avocat (Judi Dench)

Miss Avocet (Judi Dench)

The screenplay is by Jane Goldman (co-writer Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Kingsman: The Secret Service).

Overall it is a faithful to the essence of the novel. There are some changes like most book to film adaptations. The one change that has had some fans up in arms is the decision to switch Emma (Ella Purnell) and Olive’s (Lauren McCrostie) abilities. In the book Emma is pyrokinetic; in that she is able to manipulate fire. In the film Emma has Olive’s special ability of weightlessness; she floats.

Emma (Ella Purnell)

Emma (Ella Purnell)

Olive (Lauren McCrostie)

Olive (Lauren McCrostie)

Another character change is Dr. Golan. In the book the character is male for the film the character is portrayed by Emmy award winning actress Allison Janney. Personally I can overlook this change as I am a fan of Janney and I think the change works for the film.

The first half of the film is reasonably faithful to the book. The later act has been changed this is probably for pacing reasons. The novel is part of a trilogy whereas Goldman and Burton have designed the film to be a stand alone story. Although Burton leaves enough mystery for the possibility of a sequel.

Olive (Lauren McCrostie), Bronwyn (Pixie Davies), Millard (Cameron King), Twins (Joseph and Thomas Odwell), Emma (Ella Purnell)

Olive (Lauren McCrostie), Bronwyn (Pixie Davies), Millard (Cameron King), Twins (Joseph and Thomas Odwell), Emma (Ella Purnell)

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This month’s book club pick is Rick Yancey‘s 2013 post-apocalyptic alien invasion novel The 5th Wave. A film adaptation directed by J Blakeson (The Disappearance of Alice Creed) was released in January this year.

Chloë Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass, HugoIf I Stay) leads the cast as Cassie. Chloe is an excellent young actress and while she delivers a capable performance this is not her best work. I feel that she was not given an opportunity to explore her character in depth.

The script was penned by Susannah Grant (Pocahontas, Erin Brockovich, Charlotte’s Web), Academy Award Winner Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind) and Jeff Pinkner (The Amazing Spider-Man 2, TV Series Lost and Fringe).

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Cassie (Chloë Grace Moretz)

Nick Robinson (The Kings of Summer, Jurassic World) and relative newcomer Alex Roe play Cassie’s two potential love interests Ben and Evan.

In the book Ben is the high school crush that does not even notice Cassie exists. In the film they share a smile at a party and know of each other. Robinson and Roe are both likeable in their roles but they don’t do much to progress the story.

Nick Robinson as Ben

Ben (Nick Robinson)

Alex Roe as Evan and Chloë Grace Moretz as Cassie

Evan (Alex Roe) and Cassie (Chloë Grace Moretz)

Another change – in the book the character of Sergeant Reznik is male. In the film the characters of Dr Pam and Reznik are merged together and Maria Bello portrays Reznik. This change is to add another adult female character to the mix – it could have worked but the character of Reznik was left out of most of the crucial action and was not fully developed as a character.

Liev Schreiber brings a sense of credibility and seriousness to the film as Colonel Vosch. Actors Ron Livingston and Maggie Siff portray Cassie’s parents but both are dispatched quickly so Cassie can continue her journey alone.

Maria Bello as Sergeant Reznik

Sergeant Reznik (Maria Bello)

Colonel Vosch (Liev Schreiber) and Ben (Nick Robinson)

Colonel Vosch (Liev Schreiber) and Ben (Nick Robinson)

The production design is excellent but at times the film feels like it is too brightly lit for a post-apocalyptic world. This was a deliberate decision by the filmmakers as the ‘others’ (aliens) do not wish to destroy the world just wipe out mankind. The flawless make up and perfect hair amongst the chaos is not realistic and also lets down the look of the film.

Those who have read the book will likely be interested in seeing the film adaptation otherwise to general audiences the film just gets swept up amongst a long line of more successful dystopian YA films.

It is unlikely that Sony Pictures will option the next film in the series.

I won a copy of The 5th Wave on DVD through cammansel.com. Thanks Cam!

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This month’s book club pick is Stephen Chbosky‘s 1999 novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower. A film adaptation, written and directed by Chbosky was released in 2012.

It is unusual for a book author to write and direct a film version of their story. Although Chbosky did graduate from the University of Southern California’s screenwriting programme and write, direct and act in an independent film The Four Corners of Nowhere (1995) before publishing The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Stephen Chbosky with Emma Watson and Logan Lerman

Stephen Chbosky with Emma Watson and Logan Lerman

He later went on to write he screenplay for film adaptation of the hit Broadway musical Rent (2005) and co-created and executive produced the television drama Jericho (2006-2008). On a side note, Chbosky has written the screenplay for Disney’s live action version of Beauty and the Beast (due for release 2017). He is also one of the screenwriters for The Divergent Series: Allegiant (due out next month).

John Hughes, the man behind 80s teen films Sixteen Candles (1984) Weird Science (1985) and The Breakfast Club (1985), and the scriptwriter of the now classic Christmas family films Home Alone (1990) and Home Alone: Lost in New York (1992), initially was attached to write the screenplay but never finished it before his death. Chbosky liked Hughes screenplay so he negotiated the rights from Hughes’ estate and developed it.

Sam (Emma Watson), Charlie (Logan Lerman), Patrick (Ezra Miller)

Sam (Emma Watson), Charlie (Logan Lerman), Patrick (Ezra Miller)

Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson series) portrays Charlie. Emma Watson (Harry Potter series) and Ezra Miller (We Need to Talk About Kevin) portray step-siblings Patrick and Sam, who Charlie befriends.

The trio have great onscreen chemistry. This was Watson’s first big role post Harry Potter (after a small role in My Week in Marilyn). She is pretty comfortable with the American accent but it is Miller that steals the show as the flamboyant Patrick.

Charlie (Logan Lerman)

Charlie (Logan Lerman)

Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson)

Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson)

The novel is written is a series of letters from Charlie to an unknown friend. Chbosky uses this narrative function briefly in the film with Lerman doing voice over for the letters but prefers to show rather than tell.

Some of the darker incidents of the novel have been cut from the film. Overall it’s a pretty faithful adaptation, the essence of the story is there and the young cast shine in their roles.

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This month’s book club pick is Robert Cormier’s 1974 novel The Chocolate War. A film adaptation written and directed by Keith Gordon was released in 1988.

The film opens with fifteen-year-old freshman Jerry Renault (Ilan Mitchell-Smith*Weird Science) playing football while two students watch from the bleachers.

The two students are Archie (Wallace Langham) and Obie (Doug Hutchison). Both are members of The Vigils, a secret underground student society.

*Interesting fact Mitchell-Smith is now a Professor of Medieval Literature at California State University Long Beach.

Jerry (Ilan Mitchell-Smith)

Jerry (Ilan Mitchell-Smith)

Archie (Wallace Langham) and Obie (Doug Hutchison)

Archie (Wallace Langham) and Obie (Doug Hutchison)

Each student when joining the Vigils is assigned a task. Albie gives Jerry’s the assignment to refuse to sell any chocolates for ten days during the school’s fundraiser.

Jerry decides after the ten days to still refuse to sell chocolates, which puts him at heads with the Vigils and sadistic vice principal Brother Leon (John Glover). His defiant act turns into an all-out war with bullying and coercion.

Brother Leon (John Glover) and Gregory Bailey (Wayne Young)

Brother Leon (John Glover) and Gregory Bailey (Wayne Young)

The first two acts of the film remain reasonably faithful to the book. The ending of the film is changed to give the film a more optimistic ‘Hollywood’ style ending where good prevails over evil. The ending of the book is far bleaker.

First time director Keith Gordon was a teen actor himself (he made his film debut at 17 in Jaws 2) so he has a good understanding of a young actor’s process. He was also only 27 when he directed The Chocolate War. Other than are few issues, such as editing choices and the use of some fantasy sequences that don’t always work, it is a competent effort for a first time director and he largely delivers good performances from his cast.

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This month’s book club pick is John Marsden’s 1993 novel Tomorrow, When the War Began. In 2010 a film adaptation was released written and directed by experienced screenwriter Stuart Beattie (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Collateral, Australia).

Former Neighbours actress Caitlin Stasey leads the cast as Ellie and delivers a strong performance. The remaining teens do at the beginning feel a bit like teen movie archetypes: best friend Corrie (Rachel Hurd-Wood), her jock boyfriend Kevin (Lincoln Lewis), rebellious Greek Homer (Deniz Akdeniz), hardworking Asian student and restaurant worker Lee (Chris Pang), sensible church going Robyn (Ashleigh Cummings), townie Fiona (Phoebe Tonkin) and stoner Chris (Andy Ryan).

Kevin (Lincoln Lewis), Fiona (Phoebe Tonkin), Lee (Chris Pang), Ellie (Caitlin Stasey), Corrie (Rachel Hurd-Wood), Robyn (Ashleigh Cummings)

Kevin (Lincoln Lewis), Fiona (Phoebe Tonkin), Lee (Chris Pang), Ellie (Caitlin Stasey), Corrie (Rachel Hurd-Wood), Robyn (Ashleigh Cummings)

Ellie (Caitlin Stasey), Homer (Deniz Akdeniz), Fiona (Phoebe Tonkin)

Ellie (Caitlin Stasey), Homer (Deniz Akdeniz), Fiona (Phoebe Tonkin)

Kevin (Lincoln Lewis), Homer (Deniz Akdeniz), Ellie (Caitlin Stasey), Robyn (Ashleigh Cummings)

Kevin (Lincoln Lewis), Homer (Deniz Akdeniz), Ellie (Caitlin Stasey), Robyn (Ashleigh Cummings)

Beattie like Marsden does not identify the military force invading the town, which means the focus is on the young cast. Veteran Australian actor Colin Friels briefly appears as a dentist who helps the teens after Lee is wounded, but after patching up Lee he makes it clear the teens are on their own.

The film is a reasonably faithful adaptation of the book. Beattie modernised the script with references to technology. Rather than recording the history in a journal Ellie speaks directly to camera, the characters also have mobile phones and internet. When they return to Wirrawee cell towers and internet are out. This modernisation works for the film.

The filmmakers put a lot of effort into the action, special effects and stunt sequences. At times it feels like it is trying to hard to be a Hollywood action blockbuster. As a result internationally it received critical reviews and unfavourable comparisons to the 1984 film Red Dawn.

Overall fans of the book will be pleased.

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This month’s book club pick is Lois Duncan‘s 1973 psychological thriller I Know What You Did Last Summer. In 1997 a film adaptation was released directed by Jim Gillespie.

A word of the warning – the film is very different to the book.  While the book is a thriller / suspense novel the film fits more into the horror slasher genre that was very popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Duncan who was not involved in the film’s production has not hidden her dislike for the film. Readers of the book will understand that while the reveal of the antagonist works on page this would not work onscreen.

The basic premise of the novel is four high school teenagers, Julie, Helen, Barry and Ray are involved in a hit and run accident where a young boy is killed. The teens make a pact to never speak about it again until they begin to receive threatening messages suggesting someone knows what they did. The film uses the same four characters and this basic idea but after that everything else is original.

I Know What You Did Last Summer

I Know What You Did Last Summer

To me the film and book should be appreciated as separate texts. Scriptwriter Kevin Williamson (creator of TV series Dawson’s Creek and The Vampire Diaries) took Duncan’s idea and transformed it into something new. I Know What You Did Last Summer is not as good as Scream, his earlier entry into the slasher genre (released 1996 and directed by horror legend Wes Craven), which was a box office and critical success. The success of Scream is what undoubtedly allowed I Know What You Did Last Summer to be made and because of this critics and audiences tend to compare the two films. Scream, while playing homage and poking fun at the slasher film genre, is the film that revamped and reintroduced the genre for a 90s audience.

The film followed Scream‘s success of casting well known actors from popular television shows; Party of Five‘s Jennifer Love Hewitt played Julie and Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Sarah Michelle Gellar played Helen. Ryan Phillippe and Freddie Prince Jr. also star as Barry and Ray.

Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt), Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Barry (Ryan Phillippe), Ray (Freddie Prince Jr.)

Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt), Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Barry (Ryan Phillippe), Ray (Freddie Prince Jr.)

Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt), Barry (Ryan Phillippe)

Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt), Barry (Ryan Phillippe)

In the film the teens are stalked and tormented by a killer who wears a bucket cap and long raincoat and carries a shiny fisherman’s hook, which fits in perfectly with the horror film killer. Think Freddie Kruger and his knives for fingers in The Nightmare of Elm Street series and the white masked Michael Myers in the Halloween series.

Also like many American horror films it follows the tradition of being set around holiday – in this case the Fourth of July.

Fisherman Killer

Fisherman Killer

The film was followed by a sequel I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998). A third film I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer was released straight-to-DVD in 2006 and did not feature any cast from the previous films. Sony has plans to reboot the franchise with Oculus‘ Mike Flanagan writing the script.