Posts Tagged ‘young adult’

The Maze Runner

When I first heard that a film adaptation of James Dashner’s “The Maze Runner” was forthcoming, I reacted to it with the same sanctimonious ambivalence with which I have welcomed most of the recent attempts to spin gold from young-adult fiction.

But then I saw the trailer, with its hints of Goldingesque mores and Lindelofian enigma and began to feel genuine excitement. Why are these boys trapped in a maze? Who are they and who put them there? What lies beyond the monolithic walls?

These were questions that I didn’t even know I had but after two minutes of carefully-curated images I needed answers.

In large part, my anticipation was rewarded and my (admittedly low) expectations were exceeded. The Maze Runner preserves a healthy sense of mystery throughout it’s 113-minute running time, carefully pacing its revelations and building to a climax that is both emotionally rewarding and deceptive.

It’s not without it’s faults, clearly. Convenience plays a large role in getting the plot from A to B to C and the *ending* is little more than an exposition dump setting up a far-from-guaranteed sequel (see: Ender’s Game, Beautiful Creatures, Mortal Instruments, Eragon, etc.). But the action is tense, the plotting is tight and best of all, the film gives us a YA-adaptation with more on its mind than who our protagonist will choose to date.

The film starts abruptly, almost jarringly so, as our as-yet-unnamed hero awakens to find himself rapidly ascending a dark elevator shaft with no memory of how he got where he is or any other detail about himself.

Reaching the top, he finds himself thrown into a rag-tag band of a couple dozen young men (including the adorable kid from Love Actually) who arrived in the same manner he did over the space of roughly three years and who have built themselves a relatively prosperous society, albeit one that is confined to the interior courtyard of an enormous labyrinthine enclosure.

Eventually he regains his name, Thomas, and learns the lay of the land: every boy is expected to contribute to the well-being of the fragile society, and each day a select group of “runners” explore the maze looking for a way out. At sundown the gate to the interior courtyard, or “glade” automatically closes and anyone trapped outside has historically never been heard from again.

Naturally curious, it doesn’t take long for Thomas to venture beyond the safety of the Glade, with his actions triggering a break in the status quo that will either lead to long-sought answers or the demise of everyone trapped in the maze.

Director Wes Ball makes a number of wise decisions in his creation of the film, particularly that the audience never knows more than our protagonist — with the exception of one final scene that asks more questions than it answers. Readers of the book series may anticipate what’s ahead but newcomers will find themselves dropped into a wholly unfamiliar and unexplained world where any outcome seems possible.

The computer generated effects are presented with a light-handed touch, keeping a sense of eerie claustrophobia while giving the action room to breath and creating a daunting scope for the Maze without sacrificing tangible environments for the characters to interact with.

The performances by the almost exclusively non-adult and unknown cast members are also particularly good, anchored by Dylan O’Brien (Teen Wolf) and We’re The Millers’ Will Poulter as a de facto antagonist.

With so much of the story’s secrets kept hidden in a mystery box until the potential sequels, it’s difficult to say whether The Maze Runner is a clever creation or a bundle of nonsense. But if this first film is all we ever get, then it’s an satisfying tale of survival that leaves you wanting more.

Grade: B

*The Maze Runner opens nationwide on Friday, Sept. 19


Read Full Post »

First things first, this is not a comprehensive summer movie preview. If you’re looking for a full list of the upcoming releases I, for one, would recommend picking up a copy of last week’s Entertainment Weekly (look for the one with XMen on the cover).

Instead, here’s a short list of lesser-known films that may otherwise slip through the cracks of the big-budget action tentpoles that make up the majority of the summer season. And to be clear, we here at Wood’s Stock love big-budget action tentpoles and are giddy with excitement over Guardians of the Galaxy, pleasantly curious about Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, anxiously optimistic about The Edge of Tomorrow and are really, really, hoping we don’t get burned again by Godzilla.

But a cinematic diet that consists entirely of popcorn is unhealthy, so here’s some pallette cleansing comedies and independent films to keep an eye on over the next four months. *Note* unlike last year, the summer indie films have been slow to put out their theatrical trailers. Throw me a frickin bone, amirite?


In the latest film from Richard Linklater, the director of the ‘Before’ trilogy, we see the story of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he ages from a young boy to a young man. This isn’t achieved by clever casting or digital trickery a la Benjamin Button, it’s the result of an ambitious strategy that saw the cast and crew of Boyhood reunite intermittently  to film the movie over the space of 12 years, literally capturing the passage of time.

It’s a gimmick, to be sure, but one that by most accounts has been combined with a thoughtful, emotional script to pay of large dividends as a singularly unique cinematic experience. And if anyone can pull it off it’s Linklater, who has proved with the Before films a penchant for storytelling that appears effortlessly natural, mining the seeming mundanities of everyday relationships for dramatic gold.

Also, bonus points for using Family of the Year’s “Hero” for the trailer track (hey, didn’t One Wood Uke cover that once?)

Boyhood opens in limited release on July 11


Magic in the Moonlight

In keeping with director Woody Allen’s style, relatively little is known about Magic in the Moonlight, which is set in 1920’s France and stars Emma Stone and Colin Firth and oh, who am I kidding, I’m already sold.

The latest scandal notwithstanding, Allen has been on fire the last few years. Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine were phenomenal and the relatively meh reception toward To Rome With Love seems, in hindsight, to have been a classic case of too-high expectations. Also remember when I said Emma Stone and Colin Firth? and Woody Allen? AND FRANCE?

Magic in the Moonlight opens on July 25.

The Fault in our Stars

You’ve probably already read the book, and if you haven’t then you’ve probably been told innumerable times by your YA-reading friends that OMG YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK OMG SO SAD SO GOOD I JUST CAN’T RIGHT NOW!

Frankly, I didn’t love it, but I recognize the appeal and I’ve said many times before that while I’m not personally drawn to YA literature I nonetheless appreciate the film adaptations it inspires (see: Nick and Norah, Perks, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Spectacular Now, etc.).

‘Fault’ stars it-girl Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort as two cancer-stricken teens who meet in a support group, fall helplessly into young love and then, well you can probably guess but it’s all about the journey or something, right? The script and the book it’s based on were both written by John Green, who is something of a deity among YA circles, so fans shouldn’t have much to worry about and newcomers should bring tissues.

‘Fault’ opens on June 6.

A Million Ways to Die in the West

I’ve always had a soft spot for the humor of Seth McFarlane, which bounces between high-brow and low-brow gags that trade crass vulgarity and dry wit in equal measure (the horrendous CBS sitcom ‘Dads’ being the exception that proves the rule). Take, for example, the much-discussed “We Saw Your Boobs” number during last year’s Oscars. It either perpetuated Hollywood sexism and male gaze or it actually subverted Hollywood sexism by criticizing male gaze, but still delivered an impressively-staged piece of musical theater that benefited from McFarlane’s natural aptitude for showtunes.

And now there’s ‘West,’ McFarlane’s live-action follow-up to the funnier-than-it-had-any-right-to-be ‘Ted.’ Only this time, instead of inhabiting a stuffed animal, McFarlane’s actual face will appear on the big screen as Albert, a wise guy ahead of his time living in the American West circa 1882. The plot has something to do with Albert being challenged by a gunslinger (Liam Neeson, natch!) and wooing Charlie Theron, but it’s safe to assume that “plot” will be frequently set aside in service of comedic vignettes that largely revolve around accidental and unnecessary death.

A Million Ways to Die in the West opens on May 30.

Read Full Post »